Benetton and Italy back-five forward Sebastian Negri talks phobias, black mambas and singing karaoke

Downtime with… Italy flanker Sebastian Negri

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the pitch?

When Benetton played the Scarlets away, George Clancy was the referee. He said something to one of our props, something like “work on your bind”. But our prop doesn’t understand any English so he just went up to him, said he was sorry and tried to hug him!

Who are the jokers in the team?

With Benetton, Ian McKinley loves pranking guys, hiding their shoes in the gym, etc. He’s a good laugh. And with the national team me and Jake Polledri are partners in crime, always winding up people.

Any pranks that you can share?

One day one of the conditioning coaches had some hurdles out by the side of the field and one of our wings ran straight into them, just off the pitch. Everyone blamed the coach for having the hurdles out there, so near. Later on that night me and Jake got all of the hurdles and put them in the coach’s hotel room.

Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?

I love sports and I’m a massive fan of Liverpool Football Club, so club legend Steven Gerrard would be one of them. Then I’ll go Will Ferrell as he’s a good laugh. And then someone who did a lot for sports in Africa and a lot throughout the world, Nelson Mandela. 

Steven Gerrard

Football icon: Liverpool great Steven Gerrard (Getty Images)

Do you have any phobias?

I’m very claustrophobic, so lifts aren’t a great one for me. In Florence last year I had a bit of a panic attack in a lift when we were stuck in there for 20 minutes. A lot of the boys were taking the mickey. And my other phobia is probably snakes.

So we shouldn’t ask who you’d like to be stuck in a lift with…

That’s my worst nightmare, but if I had to be stuck in a lift I’d like to be in there with Will Ferrell as he’d just make me laugh and I might forget about things.

Do you see many snakes when you travel back to Africa?

Yeah, Mum and Dad are still in Zimbabwe and I have family in South Africa, so I travel back once a year just to catch up. You see lots of venomous snakes and you hear stories all the time. My dad has encountered a few black mambas, so those stories do scare you.

You do charity stuff too?

Afrika Tikkun is an organisation that feeds kids less fortunate than us. Every time I score a try, I donate to the fund and try to get the word out as much as I can. I like to help out back home. You can see a link on my Instagram and Twitter pages.

What winds you up?

When team-mates give me grief about how skinny my legs are – I always hear it. It gets on top of me after a while when everyone gives me s*** about it!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

I’d like to go back in time, to see what it was like back in the day. I love the movie Braveheart, so I’d go back to then and maybe right back to the time of Gladiator as well.

Italy flanker Sebastian Negri

Sharing a joke: Italy captain Sergio Parisse with Sebastian Negri (Getty Images)

What’s your embarrassing moment on the pitch?

In one of my first games for Italy, suddenly I’m playing alongside Sergio Parisse – a big idol of all of ours growing up. The first lineout call comes in against Ireland and he calls it to the back and I’m supposed to lift him. And I completely forgot the call. He told me to wake up and said a few other rude things in Italian. Now I’ll never ever forget to lift him, that’s for sure!

If your house was on fire, what one item would you save?

It would probably be my first Italian jersey, for my first cap (v USA, 2016). Yeah, I can’t think of anything else that would top that.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Yeah, I’ll admit I love romantic comedies. I’d say Nicholas Sparks all day – he’s the author of all those romantic movies.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Maybe I’m tooting my own horn a bit here but I’m not a bad singer. My karaoke go-to is Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry. Also, I’ve got a degree in sports business management, which some people might not know.

What would you like to achieve outside of rugby?

I’m a big family man so I would love to settle down one day and start a family. I would then give those kids the best possible opportunities in life. I’d try to do the best I can, like my parents have done for me.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Rugby World magazine.

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