Meet the Second Overall Pick in the 2022 MLR Draft: Sebastiano Villani



Scrum-half, Sebastiano Villani was the second overall pick at the 2022 Major League Rugby Draft. Selected by NOLA Gold, Villani began playing rugby all the way back in 2005, his strong Italian heritage the inspiration for taking up the sport.

A key part of the St. Bonaventure University side that won a national championship in 2021, while playing Division I rugby, the half-back was a regularly called upon weapon by Bonnies head coach, Tui Osborne, who in the days that followed the Draft described his former player as having a “high rugby IQ”.

Even before his arrival at St. Bonaventure, Villani was a highly touted talent. A High School All-American while in the Greenwich High School varsity rugby program, being drafted second overall by NOLA is the culmination of nearly two decades of hard work for the scrum-half.

“This is something surreal,” Villani said. “This has been a dream of mine since I was seven. To finally accomplish something like this is something really surreal.

Photo by Merrick Ales

“I am proud of what I did, and I am so glad it finally happened and that all the hard work paid off. But it is something I could have never guessed 10 years back. I am genuinely very excited about this.”

Just six days before the 2022 MLR Draft, NOLA traded with Old Glory DC for the second overall pick. In return, DC moved back a place in the first round and the Gold’s second round pick.

In selecting Villani, it shows how determined that Ryan Fitzgerald and Kane Thompson were to get the man they felt would trade places with Namibia international, Damian Stevens, for at least the 2023 MLR season.

In preparation for the Draft, Villani was one of many who played in the Collegiate Rugby Shield. Taking place at the home of the Utah Warriors, Zions Bank Stadium, Villani started for the Peaks in the game that took place in early July, combining with Dallas Jackals draftee Matias Caramuti at half-back.

Nine more players from the Collegiate Rugby Shield were also drafted in 2022, making for an eventful first showing for the competition. Highlighting players in front of MLR General Managers and Coaches, in many ways it was a continuation of the hard work that went unseen for so long before that time.

Having been a consistently strong performer throughout his rugby career, the 22-year-old says that it has not always been the simplest but is more than satisfied with the final outcome.

“I think everyone knows that to get to that next level, you have to be laser focused and people around me know how much work I have put into this,” Villani said.

Photo by Merrick Ales

“For example, I have had to fight against adversity. There has been different competition, against Connor Buckley [Rugby New York] back in the day. In general, I was always there, but I am happy it has worked out.”

In addition to Villani, NOLA also selected both Chase Jones [St. Mary’s College, lock] and Trent Rogers [Kutztown University, prop] in the first round and added Christian Olney [Ohio State University, wing] in the third round with their final pick this year.

Adding some meat to their forwards pack, as well as two exciting backs, NOLA’s preparations for the 2023 season are in full swing. Also having traded their second round pick this year for James Vaifale and trading Nicholas Feakes away to New York for salary cap considerations next year, there is much to play for in the new year.

Winning four games in the 2022 MLR season, the Gold have still not taken their place in the postseason. Part of a unique club in that sense, they will once again be looking to scratch that longstanding itch when the new campaign rolls around.

Now due to be a part of the latest push for playoff rugby, Villani is enthusiastic about what his debut MLR season will bring and how he will go about tackling his greatest challenge yet, being a professional rugby player.

“This is pretty much the opportunity of a lifetime, and I can’t wait,” Villani said. “I have already met some of the guys like Ryan [Fitzgerald, GM] and Kane seems like a great guy.

“Playing at scrum-half, and playing with Damian Stevens, that is the pathway to success. This guy is a double World Cup player, I couldn’t be under better reins.

“I am ready to just be a sponge, learn everything possible to be the best player and take every opportunity that I get. First year, the plan is to be under the guidance of Damian Stevens.

“That is why I am so glad to go to NOLA Gold. They have a great staff; such a great family and I am super happy to be a part of it.”

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