AS a diminutive and quick-footed back-three player with Scottish and Italian ancestry, Luca Bardelli does not have far to look for inspiration.
The 21-year-old loves watching Darcy Graham and Ange Capuozzo in action and the way they evade contact and create space is clearly rubbing off on him because he is having a real purple patch in his own rugby career just now.
Despite GHA being relegated from the Premiership, the full-back/winger managed to score 10 tries in their 2022-23 league campaign as was named in The Offside Line’s Team of the Season for that division.
That form caught the eye of Ayrshire Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur and now Bardelli is a member of the Millbrae part-time professional outfit’s squad which has started the 2023 Super Series Sprint with two wins from two matches.
Bardelli scored two tries in the second of those matches against Stirling Wolves last Friday night, before being named GHA’s young player of the year at their annual awards night on Saturday, so it is no surprise that he is feeling good about his rugby just now.
“This season so far has been great for me personally,” he said. “Growing up I played full-back a lot and I still enjoy it there because you have a great view of the whole pitch and what is going on in front of you, but with GHA this year I also played quite a lot on the wing and have been learning more about that position, too.
“Although it was a tough spell for GHA, I was more regularly involved in the 1st team than I had been in 2021-22 and that run of games with some great team-mates around me and some good coaching really helped me take my game on.
“There are so many parts to the game as a back three player and I have been working hard at putting all of those together whenever I take to the field.
“I have never really been involved in any representative rugby or performance-type squads before, so I wasn’t sure what would be next for me as GHA’s season was coming to a close, but I had a conversation with Pat and he was keen for me to join the Bulls, so I wanted to give it a go.
“It was a bit daunting at first heading down to a new club and into new squad which is made up of players with a lot of experience, but the guys really welcomed me in well and have been helping me settle from day one.
“Backs coach Frazier Climo [who is also still a player with the Bulls] has been really helpful and both he and Pat are very approachable. They know what they want from the players on the pitch and they put the hard work in, but they are easy to talk to and that interaction has helped me work on little parts of my game.
“Positioning for me has been a big thing and how to get involved in the game at the right time, so it was nice to get a couple of tries versus the Wolves.”
The biggest cheer when Bardelli went over for his first try in the 24-13 triumph over Stirling at Millbrae was from father Paolo.
“It is fair to say that my love of rugby comes from my dad,” Bardelli said about his father who is from an Italian background and who played the game for the likes of Hutchesons’ Aloysians and West of Scotland and is now on the board at GHA.
“I was down at GHA playing in the Minis from around four years of age and it has been a sport that has always been in my life.
“Throughout my youth I played for GHA and then, in my senior school years, I also played for St Aloysius’ College.
“The rugby set-up at school was excellent under the then director of rugby Mark McKenzie and he and the other coaches created a really good culture.
“We were encouraged to play Touch most lunchtimes as the coaches knew that regularly working on our basic skills would help us. And those fun games really did help us when it came to the real thing at rugby training, though I’m not sure the other teachers loved us turning up for the first classes after the break tired out and sweating!”
In December 2016, Bardelli and his under-16 school team mates made it to the Scottish Schools Cup final at Murrayfield. They beat Strathallan School 10-3 with a squad which included the likes of Adam Scott (formerly GHA and Scotland under-20 and now Boroughmuir Bears) and GHA duo Luke McCutcheon and Tom Lonergan.
Two years later, the school’s under-18 team were at Murrayfield for another final and although they went down to Merchiston Castle, the likes of Bardelli, Scott, McCutcheon, Luca Alessandri (formerly Cartha and Scotland under-20 and now Boroughmuir Bears) and GHA’s Jamie McEntegart were involved.
Bardelli left school in the summer of 2019, but was still eligible to play for GHA’s under-18s in 2019-20. They were all set for a Murrayfield showdown with Jed Thistle in the National Youth Cup final until the pandemic hit, but Bardelli has fond memories of that team and, following on from that, the last two years at senior level with GHA.
“I’ve been lucky to play in some good teams so far in my career and now I’m focused on the Bulls,” the youngster, who is also working part-time, said. “Players like Darcy Graham and Ange Capuozzo are so exciting to watch and they inspire me and the way I like to try and play.
“I’m now just looking forward to the rest of the Sprint and continuing to learn with each training session and match.”