Bergamasco raring to go for Italy
Mirco Bergamasco's international career looked to be over after the 30-year-old fractured his kneecap during a Test against Australia in November of 2012.
Surgery and a long recovery period followed for the experienced Italian winger.
Bergamasco suffered another setback last summer when French club Racing Metro, whom he had joined in 2010 from rivals Stade Francais, decided not to offer him a contract extension.
While his move to Italian outfit Rovigo in July was a step back in his club career, it served as a platform to return to the national team just six months later.
"(Italy) coach Jacques Brunel told me that the door of the national team is always open and that it depended on me," Bergamasco said.
It is easy to see why Brunel included Bergamasco in his squad for the upcoming RBS 6 Nations.
"I told Mirco that if he managed to show he was at a level that was better than the average in the Italian league, then it wouldn't be difficult for me to call him up to the national side," Brunel said. "He is constantly among the best on the pitch for Rovigo and is one of the most experienced international players."
Bergamasco, who made his debut with the national team in 2002 and has earned 89 caps since, feels at home with Rovigo.
"Rovigo was the only serious and interesting proposal I had," he said. "I'm very happy to return to the origins of Italian rugby, the club that has the most passionate fans."
The Bergamasco family also have plenty of ties with Rovigo.
"My father played (rugby) at Rovigo," Bergamasco said. "The club house is full of his photos.
"My mother was born here and it's here where they got married.
"My grandmother lives 200 metres away from the stadium and she came to my unveiling.
"I've had to buy 20 season tickets for my family and had I known that, I would have included those in my contract!"
Bergamasco admits there is less pressure competing in Italy's top flight (the National Championship of Excellence) than in France.
"I kick every weekend," Bergamasco said. "As a centre, it's easier with less pressure. But at Rovigo I have found a quality group led by very capable coaches.
"The atmosphere in general is very professional, perhaps more than other clubs that I have played for in the past."
Bergamasco has been included in Brunel's squad as a winger although centre remains his ideal position.
"The important thing is to be a part of the group," Bergamasco said. "I'm always available for the national team.
"I will try to find more space and if possible, in the role that I feel more comfortable with. I am very happy and ready to give 100 per cent."
Bergamasco watched in frustration as Italy endured ups and downs in 2013.
For the second time in their history, the Azzurri won two games at the RBS Six Nations, including an historic victory over Ireland.
Defeats to South Africa and Samoa followed in the summer, however.
Italy began their November Tests with a heavy defeat (50-20) to Australia in Turin.
The Azzurri then beat Fiji 37-31 in Cremona and ended the year with a 19-14 loss to Argentina in Rome.
"It's always difficult to judge from outside," Bergamasco said. "I only say that the Tests in June and November serve as a preparation for the Six Nations and in the last tournament we did well."
Bergamasco will again team up with older brother Mauro, who returns to the Six Nations having been left out in last year's edition for technical reasons.
"We are hard working and we have never given up on the possibility of returning to the national team," Bergamasco said.
"We have overcome difficult times but we have always fought because that's how we are."
Italy begin the Six Nations against reigning champions Wales in Cardiff on February 1 before travelling to France one week later.
The Azzurri host Scotland on February 22 before facing Ireland in Dublin two weeks later.
Italy end the competition at home to England on March 15.