For Italy forward Dean Budd, the path to captaining his adopted nation included a challenging detour in Japanese rugby.
Before finding success with Italian club Benetton Rugby, the New Zealand-born lock spent the 2011-2012 Top League season in Japan's first tier with the NEC Green Rockets.
While Budd has some fond memories of the stint, during which the Green Rockets reached the Top League semifinals, limited playing opportunities made it a personally frustrating period, he said Tuesday.
(Dean Budd of Italy)[World Rugby/Getty/Kyodo]
Top League rules at the time allowed only three foreign players per team on the field simultaneously, and with captain and Tonga international Nili Latu sewing up one spot, Budd was mostly left out of the XV.
"I played two or three games, maybe, so it was a long season of training," Budd laughed.
"I was a very ambitious rugby player. I wanted to keep going forward. (But) just coming and training six days a week and never really getting to play was quite difficult."
While he also found his location with the club in semi-rural Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, somewhat isolated, Budd said he cherished the connections he made with Green Rockets players and staff.
"That's something I really took away with me, the people, the way they treated you, was so, so nice," he said.
With longtime captain Sergio Parisse to be rested following Italy's opening 47-22 victory over Namibia, Budd will lead the Azzurri for the third time in his career Thursday against Pool B opponents Canada at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium (Level 5 Stadium).
The 33-year-old, who has captained Benetton since the 2017-2018 season, said his time in Japan helped lay the foundations for a successful club career in Italy.
"It really helped me. I gained a lot of personal life skills, in terms of just being exposed to different cultures and different ways of thinking and I learnt from that hardship I had, in terms of not getting what I wanted out of rugby," said Budd, who played both test matches of Italy's 2018 tour of Japan.
The forward hopes to show his Italy teammates some of the things he loves about Japan during the World Cup, including dishes such as yakiniku, okonomiyaki and takoyaki, as well as the country's renowned video game arcades.
He is also open to the possibility of one day returning to continue his rugby career here.
"I definitely could see Japan being a place to come back to, especially in a cool city like Fukuoka. It's unreal," he said.