Chris Vitalini: Newport-born second row part of Italy's World Cup qualifying squad

Chris Vitalini
Chris Vitalini had two spells with Gloucestershire All Golds before returning to South Wales Scorpions (now South Wales Ironmen) permanently for the 2016 season
Italy v Wales: 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifier
Venue: Stadio Brianteo, Monza Date: Saturday, 29 October Kick-off: 15:30 BST

He was born and raised in Newport but when Wales line up against Italy in Monza on Saturday, Chris Vitalini will not be part of John Kear's Wales side.

The South Wales Ironmen second rower is of Italian heritage and was included in Italy's 22-man squad for their 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Wales.

The 29-year-old did not play in Italy's win against Serbia in Belgrade and was not selected in their 19-man squad to face Wales, but will be backing Italy in Monza when they play against the country of his birth.

"I feel a mix [of Welsh and Italian]. I was born in Wales so I grew up Welsh but the more I learned about my heritage, the more I also felt Italian," Vitalini told BBC Radio Wales.

"When I was playing rugby at a young age, my grandparents were a huge influence on me and they were always so passionate about me possibly playing for Italy one day."

Vitalini's grandparents met in Wales after emigrating separately when they were teenagers and later opened a family shop in Newport.

"Unfortunately they passed away several years ago, which is getting to me, because they never got to see me or know that I played for Italy and that's something to be proud of," he continued.

An overconfident Wales side?

John Kear
John Kear has coached Wales since 2014

Wales thrashed Serbia 50-0 in Llanelli in their first qualifier but were held to a 16-16 draw against Jamaica in a friendly in their last game before Saturday's qualifier.

"Reading some of [Wales coach] John Kear's comments, they went into it with a bit of overconfidence I believe," Vitalini said.

"Everything's riding on the qualifier and as long as they put a performance in, that's what they'll be looking for and we'll be looking for the same as well."

The ideal scenario

Chris Vitalini
Chris Vitalini is joined in Italy's squad by Britain-based Terry Campese, Josh Mantellato, Gioele Celerino, Richard Lepori

The loser of Saturday's showdown will be forced to enter a play-off game the following week, so where do Vitalini's loyalties lie?

"There's a massive carrot dangled in front of you to play in Australia next year at the World Cup for the Welsh guys and the Italian guys. A lot of our squad are Australian with Italian heritage so it would be a home World Cup for them," Vitalini said.

"Even though the loser of this game will have to play a qualifier next week, probably against Russia, nobody wants to have to go through that way. We want to qualify outright on the weekend.

"The ideal scenario for me is that we win on the weekend and Wales win the following week."

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