NICK CIVETTA HAS had an unlikely path to the top level but as he prepares to embark on his second season with Newcastle Falcons, the American second row is relishing the prospect of playing his first club game as a professional on home soil.
The USA international is one of just two Americans in the Falcons squad – so next month’s clash with Saracens in Philadelphia holds a greater meaning for him than most.
And it brings Civetta’s career full circle on what has been one of the more unusual arcs to playing in the top flight in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Now 27, Civetta only took up rugby as an 18-year-old at Notre Dame in Indiana, shifting over from American Football for a sport where he thought the players looked to be having fun and where he might get his hands on the ball a bit more.
An impressive college player, initially at No.8, he got his first taste of rugby in England when he came over as a 20-year-old All American, even playing at Welford Road.
From that moment he knew he wanted to make it as a professional, but his rugby journey required stops in San Francisco, New York and then Italy – where he was also working as a university researcher – before the opportunity came along with Newcastle last year.
He said: “After starting playing rugby in college I came over to the UK to play against Saracens, Leicester and Richmond and that was the first time that I really understood what my goal was.
“Running out at Welford Road when you’re 19 or 20, in some ways you have no idea what is going on but also it made me pretty determined about what I wanted to do.
“Making it as a professional was always at the back of my mind, although after college I was working as a science engineer in New York. The opportunity to go to Italy came up, and I can say now that it was the right decision to go.
“I’m Italian-American, although I didn’t speak the language at the time. But I went over and played rugby while also working as a research assistant and then the opportunity came up with Newcastle.
“When I joined last summer I spent a lot of the pre-season wondering if I would be good enough and whether I could make it at this level.
“This year has been great because I can just focus on trying to break into the squad and concentrate on my rugby.”
It’s already been a successful summer for Civetta, who was part of the USA team that beat Canada over two legs in a World Cup qualifier to book their place in Japan in 2019.
The second of those games was played in San Diego, and with Falcons now preparing to head to Philadelphia for the clash with Saracens on September 16 at Talen Energy Stadium, Civetta is relishing the chance to return to his homeland.
He added: “It’s a huge opportunity for me personally, and for the team. It’s an hour-and-a-half away from where I grew up in New York and it’s a great stadium. It’s great for the east coast, where the rugby scene isn’t perhaps as well-known as in some areas.
“It should be a great occasion in a ground which has held Sevens games and the USA against the Maori. Plus we’ll have the All-Americans playing Oxford University before the game so that should make it even better.”