Renton to play for Italian club

Otago halfback Josh Renton will join Italian club Zebre on a two-year contract.

The 24-year-old leaves for his new base in Northern Italy later this month.

He has been called into the squad as a replacement for Italian international No9 Marcello Violi.

Zebre plays in the Guinness Pro 14.

Violi dislocated his shoulder while playing in a match against the Bristol Bears in the European Professional Club Rugby Challenge Cup. He has ligament damage and is expected to be sidelined for four months.

Renton, who was overlooked for a spot in the Highlanders earlier this week, is looking forward to learning some Italian and experiencing a new environment.

"I head over in the next couple of weeks for the rest of the season and will be there next season as well,'' he said.

"It is a pretty good opportunity for me. They had an injury to one of their halfbacks and were looking around.''

Renton will leave without any regrets. He was part of two successful Ranfurly Shield challenges for Otago and made seven appearances for the Highlanders in five years.

"It is a pretty good time for me to move on and experience rugby in a different sort of environment.

"But I got to play for two of the teams I grew up watching as a kid and you know I loved my time here. So there are no regrets for me.''

Renton was raised in Wanaka and was a boarder at Otago Boys' High School where he honed his game.

A sharp passer, he linked up with Kaikorai Rugby Football Club when he left school. He made his provincial debut for Otago in 2013 and has played more than 40 games for the side.

At Super Rugby level, opportunities were tough to come by with All Black halfback Aaron Smith firmly ensconced as the Highlanders starting halfback.

"It will be good to experience rugby in a different light and get an opportunity to play some rugby will be pretty cool. And some of the life experiences as well.''

Renton is expecting the level of the rugby to be "pretty decent and very physical''.

Zebre is in sixth place of seven teams in conference A with a record of three wins and four losses. Its next match is against the Cardiff Blues in Wales this weekend.

 

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