Ross Vintcent interview: The Domino’s delivery driver playing for Exeter and Italy

Ross Vintcent before Italy's match against England in the Six Nations
Ross Vintcent's Six Nations commitments have put his pizza delivery shifts on hold - Getty Images/David Rogers

If you order a Domino’s pizza in the Exeter area, there is a chance the delivery driver might be called Ross. Ross Vintcent, to be precise, a second-year undergraduate at the University of Exeter, who is after some extra cash to supplement his studies. Nothing untoward in that, of course, except that Vintcent is somewhat over-qualified for the transportation of Pepperoni Passions and Mighty Meatys. Last Sunday, he came off the bench to make his Italy debut at flanker in their Six Nations loss to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Not bad for a delivery driver.

“I haven’t had a shift in the last six weeks because it’s been really busy - and I’ve had exams, too,” Vintcent tells Telegraph Sport. “But I am still technically employed by them and I have actually been thinking this week, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I would love to keep going at it but the university work is starting to pick up, too. I might have to hand in my resignation… which I would hate.”

There are ‘Meateoric’ rises and then there is Vintcent. The 21-year-old arrived in Exeter only 18 months ago, to begin a degree in business economics at the university. At that point, the flanker was not involved with the Chiefs. As far as he was aware, Vintcent was heading to Exeter to study and to play for the university’s rugby team.

His success in the back row has seen the script torn up. After impressing at British Universities and Colleges Sport [BUCS] level - amazingly, Vintcent was still playing for the University of Exeter a year ago - a Chiefs debut came in September 2022, with a full Premiership appearance following a year later before a senior Test debut with Italy last weekend. Vintcent’s rise has been so swift that the flanker is still technically on an academy contract with the Chiefs - hence the moonlighting as a Domino’s delivery driver.

Vintcent arrived as a full-time undergraduate and, remarkably, it is a status that he retains to this day. As we sit in the stands at Sandy Park, the flanker donning beloved Exeter University RFC tracksuit bottoms, he admits his journey from the prestigious Bishop’s College in Cape Town to a Test debut with Italy has been a “whirlwind”. How many tier-one Test flankers could lay claim to living in a university house with five pals upon making their debut, for instance? How many have had to battle their housemates’ insistence on a Wednesday night out after their university fixtures? That has proved more of a dilemma for Vintcent than emerging from the bench in the 68th minute of Italy’s 36-0 loss in Dublin.

Ross Vintcent playing for Italy against Ireland in this year's Six Nations
Ross Vintcent trying to tackle Ireland's James Lowe while playing for Italy in this year's Six Nations - Getty Images/Piaras A Madheach

“I was more excited than ever but it was a weird one because my nerves were under control,” Vintcent says. “My emotions were under control because I didn’t want to let the occasion get to me. When I first started playing at Sandy Park I would get so nervous and almost… doubt myself a little bit.

“I didn’t know if I was able to compete at that sort of level - last year I was playing in BUCS. It’s another step up, to the Premiership, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready and I wasn’t sure whether the coaches had made the right decision to throw me in. But I’m glad they did; being thrown in the deep end, you learn to adjust; adapt.

“But I don’t think it has sunk in... It was a surreal experience, standing in the line for the anthems, looking up, keeping looking up, and it just... didn’t stop. Full of people. It was the most excited I’ve been for a game.

“Everyone else had gone at that stage apart from myself and Tommy Allan. I was doubting how much time I’d get, if any at all. So I was very grateful when they said, ‘Ross, you’re up’.

“My parents, cousin and girlfriend were there, along with family friends from back in Dubai from when we used to live there. I was very grateful that they could make it out.”

Vintcent, born in Johannesburg to South African parents, is eligible for an Italian passport and qualifies for the Azzurri through his maternal grandfather - but he has always felt indebted to Italy’s rugby federation since they took a punt on him in 2020. He had just finished a three-year stint at the rugby stable, Bishop’s, and was applying to British universities with no plan to play rugby after school. At that point, Vintcent was a “scrum-half, fly-half, utility back” who had one solitary game on the back row under his belt. It was thanks to the brother of a current Italian team-mate that Vintcent ended up deferring those university applications and spending six months in Remedello followed by a year in Parma, excelling for the Azzurri under-20s and eventually making a Test debut - via Exeter - only four years after converting to the back row.

“In my final year of school, I switched to the back row on my coach’s suggestion,” Vintcent says. “I had one game and it went pretty well. Then, Covid came. I hadn’t had enough minutes or exposure, so I didn’t have many options. Tom Negri [brother of Sebastian] spoke to me and found out about my Italian connection and he hooked me up with the Italian federation, the national academy. They put a lot of effort into my game and from that moment I knew I wanted to play for Italy.

“They had invested in me when they didn’t have much to go on, gave me a chance, and I feel like I should reciprocate that; giving back to them as much as they gave me.”

Vintcent might feel a debt of gratitude towards Italy, but it would be handy if his name was spelt correctly. On debut, his shirt was missing that pesky ‘T’ in the middle of his name. “It’s a common mistake,” he says.

Vintcent does not lack for ambition, recalling a particularly memorable trip to Twickenham last year where the Test fire was lit.

“Italy were playing England in the Six Nations,” he says. “I had a few connections in the Italian set-up, video analyst Massimo Lombardo among them. I asked him if there was any way I could get a ticket because I really wanted to go and watch. I thought he might have a spare. He got back to me on the morning of the game - I was in Exeter at the time - saying he had two tickets. I told my dad and we said, ‘Let’s do it’. I legged it over from Exeter, got the train at like 9.30am. Got to the seats and we were sitting just below the coaches’ platform on halfway. I said to my dad, ‘In two years’ time, I want to be playing here for Italy against England’.”

Spare a thought for Exeter’s branch of Domino’s; soon to be without their most decorated delivery driver.

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