“It was the right decision to make.”
After five seasons in the Italian top flight, three in the European Challenge Cup and one in the Heineken Cup, Roberto Talotti called time on professional rugby career at the age of just 23. The flanker had struggled for game time in the 2008/9 season at the club he had joined as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, and made the “very tough” call to return to full-time education in South Africa. A rugby fanatic, Talotti did not take the decision likely, but his affinity for management and business outweighed his desperation for another chance to play at the top level.
Eight years on, Talotti has the opportunity to play in the second oldest regular fixture in the game – only England vs Scotland has been played for longer – after beginning his study for an MBA. “The term ‘excited’ is an understatement,” he told Cherwell. “I can remember watching the Varsity Match as a youngster and being in complete awe of the occasion. To be a part of such a historic fixture would be an honour and a privilege.”
While the South African-born flanker admits that he wonders what might have happened if he had continued playing professionally, he is clearly delighted with how things have turned out for him.
“I was fortunate enough to have played professionally for five years, learnt Italian, and travelled all over Europe,” he continued.
Indeed, in a five-year career, Talotti played in the U19 and U21 World Cups and Six Nations, winning the Coppa Italia and challenged himself against European giants Saracens, Harlequins and Biarritz – where he faced his “toughest opponent” in French back row Imanol Harinordoquy – in knockout competitions: for a man scouted at school and thrown into the first-team set-up one month into his trial, it was a dream foray into the professional game.
Furthermore, his working career is by no means a backup. His enthusiasm for business is clear, and he describes his Oxford experience to date as “intense, diverse [and] inspiring.”
“I have always wanted to study for an MBA,” he told Cherwell, “and Oxford was on top of my list. An MBA is important in advancing one’s career within an organisation… [it] will provide me with invaluable skills, allowing me to develop my business acumen. I am loving every minute, and I cannot believe that I have been here two months already.”
Moreover, Talotti’s Blues career has got off to a flying start. After coming off the bench to score the decisive try against Bucs Super Rugby champions Hartpury College, the flanker made his full debut two weeks ago in the clash against Trinity College, Dublin. Again Talotti impressed, making himself a nuisance at the breakdown and thwarting the Dubliners with some crunching tackles, before his second-half try in the corner sealed a 21-17 win for the Blues.
“It was massively important to get off to a good start,” he said. “It was a brilliant team effort by the boys, and we showed great determination and tenacity to get the wins.”
On a personal level, it was vital for the 31-year-old to come through his first couple of games for Oxford unscathed. After all, only seven months previously, he had undergone a serious operation to his shoulder, and these were his first appearances since: “I was quite relieved to get through them intact,” he admitted.
After those two wins, and a 41-24 thrashing of Championship side Bristol’s Academy, Oxford have won three home games on the spin, and look well placed ahead of December’s clash with the Light Blues at Twickenham, with Cambridge currently three games without a win. And if they are to come out victorious in the season’s biggest fixture, you can bet that Roberto Talotti will have more than something to do with it.