The 32-year-old Canberra native has tasted success with Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs, joining the latter in 2015 and retiring from playing professional rugby this summer. He has taken up the post of defence coach with Chiefs, and will fill the same role under Taunton head coach Tony Yapp – along with the occasional playing appearance at National 2 South level. Yapp, too, is a former Chiefs stalwart of course – and that’s how Salvi came to find himself at the Commsplus Stadium in Somerset.
Salvi explained: “It was just over coffee with Tony Yapp; I was in a position of retiring as a full-time professional but I still wanted some playing capacity in the game. “So I sat down with Tony, and it’s all gone from there. “Tony used to play with Chiefs obviously, so [I’ve known him] since I’ve been in Devon and been in constant communication with him.”
So what has the former Australia A international made of Taunton RFC so far?
“It’s been very open, it’s like any rugby club to be honest, and you always look forward to different environments and different cultures when you go to a new club. “And for me going from the professional game into the semi-professional, coming down here has been exciting.”
He also sees a fair bit of common ground between the professional game and Taunton at semi-professional level, adding: “I wouldn’t say they’re too far off, in many aspects. You’ve got a lot of academy and development players who come up this way to get some game time. It’s about trying to combine those knowledge bases, that allow these players to buy into the Exeter Chiefs ethos, and if you can drive other teams like Taunton towards promotion then that can only be a good thing.”
Salvi arrives at a club which is targeting a step up following a succession of third and fourth-placed finishes, and he thinks they have a shot at achieving that this season. He said: “There’s definitely scope for the club to be promoted; they have the players to be able to push for that. We’re one game in and you don’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s one positive result and you want to continue that as we progress through the season. The club has had a few third and fourth place finishes, and promotion would be lovely. If I can help be a part of that, add one per cent – and we’re only talking small margins here – then that can only be a good thing.”
That ‘one per cent’, perhaps between a good season and a great one, could well come from Salvi’s top tier experience.
He said: “Hopefully I can instil some of my knowledge. I’ve played the game for a long time, in professional leagues, and that experience and guidance is something I’m more than happy to pass on. “If I can provide some guidance to those guys, having been there and done it before at the top level, and improve them as players then I’m doing my job well.”
The big question for Taunton fans is ‘how often will we see Salvi take to the field this season? Clearly his focus is on coaching first and foremost, but he added: “I’d love to play as many games as I can; I just have to get that balance right.
“Exeter Chiefs is going to be what I’m doing week in, week out, but whenever I can pick up a game I’ll try and have a run around! I retired early from playing professionally because the opportunity to be part of something special at Chiefs was something that was too good to turn down. It’s a club that I can see myself being a part of for a long time, but the hunger to play at some level is still there – so why not at Taunton? There’s still the desire to play, to keep myself fit and go hammer and tongs with another individual - being in the heat of the battle, coming out battered and bruised. That’s the joy of playing rugby.”
As a flanker, Salvi joins a talented back row unit at Taunton - with Jarrard Hayler, Sam Prior and Ratu Vakalutukali all on fine form in the thumping win over Worthing on Saturday.
“I think I can learn from these guys,” Salvi adds, with a laugh. The back row trio who played at the weekend all played very well, so my spot’s not guaranteed by any means!”
This article was first published on the Somerset County Gazette and was written by Richard Browne.