Back-row Giovanni Licata, 20, is one of the brightest young stars emerging from Zebre’s surprising Guinness PRO14 start.
The powerful Sicilian, who landed in Parma as a first-team player only at the beginning of the season, is under contract with Eccellenza club Fiamme Oro Rugby but is one of the top prospects that Italian rugby are trying to develop into the next ‘big thing’.
Born in Agrigento and raised through Miraglia Rugby and CUS Catania, Licata has been a key player in Italy’s Under-18, 19 and 20 sides in the recent past. He featured in some memorable clashes during the Under-20 Six Nations, scored three tries at the 2016 Junior World Championship (two in the victorious relegation final against Japan) and was one of Italy’s best performers at the 2017 edition that saw the Azzurrini finish eighth for the first time ever.
He was first called to join the Zebre squad last year, but he had to wait the beginning of the new season to make his professional debut. He was in fact given his chance by newly-appointed coach Michael Bradley in the starting XV for the debut game against Ospreys in Swansea, and has featured into the black-and-white lineup ever since – scoring his first Guinness PRO14 try in the epic win against Ulster last week.
Licata is a powerful ball carrier that loves to use his 1.91 metres of height and more than 100 kilograms of weight to break the opposition’s defensive lines with pace.
The former member of the Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato also has some experience in Sevens Rugby under his belt, and as a result he possesses footwork and agility not common for a player of his size.
A good scrummager and excellent option in the lineout, he is an effective tackler and a reliable defender, but the experience he’s gaining with Zebre in the Guinness PRO14 may very well turn him into a dominant force at the breakdown.
He can play on either side of the scrum, although it’s at No.6 or No.8 that he creates the most damage to the opposition. Tonight against Edinburgh in Myreside he will play alongside South African Johan Meyer and two-time Man of the Match already this season, Renato Giammarioli. Keep a close eye on him as his work rate could prove to be decisive.