Rugby World Cup 2019: NZ-born Dean Budd prepares to captain Italy

It goes without saying that New Zealand-born lock Dean Budd never expected the windy road of his professional rugby journey to bring him here - on the cusp of captaining Italy at a Rugby World Cup.

The Whangarei-native grew up - like any aspiring Kiwi rugby-playing youngster - with dreams of a black jersey in his future.

As it transpired, that black has turned into the trademark 'Azzurri', and the 33-year-old couldn't be prouder as he prepares for the biggest moment of his career against Canada in Fukuoka on Thursday.

"For it to be a reality now is just incredible," Budd told Newshub. "And it's a massively proud moment for myself and the family.

"It's been a hell of a long journey, and not somewhere I'd predicted id ever be."

That journey has taken him from the national provincial championship - short stints with Auckland and Northland - to Super Rugby's Blues (again, briefly) through an "up and down" experience in Japan, before settling in Treviso with Bennetton.

Budd has qualified to play for Italy via residency, where's been since 2012.

Initially, the obvious challenges that come with adapting to life in a foreign country presented themselves, though nothing the ubiquitous pleasures of Italy couldn't remedy.

"The first few years were quite hard with the language and other barriers. But having good food and good wine made life a lot easier, and made learning the language a lot easier too."

While he'd always believed he had the ability to lead within him,  Budd's coach at Bennetton - former All Black Kieran Crowley - gave him his first chance to put them to the test as a captain.

The leadership naturally came to the fore, which had a significant impact on Budd both on and off the field.

"It really just changed a lot of how I approached my game, how I approached my life, and made me think a lot more about my actions and others and I really enjoyed that."

He also had to find a way to ramp up his typically laidback Kiwi persona to match the emotional Italian flair of his peers - a fine line he's since learned is a delicate balancing act.

"At the start, a lot of that came into me, because it had to….  if you don't get fiery and you don't put your foot forward then you just get left behind, so it was a part of making my way. I had to adopt that nature.

"But through leadership and stuff I've almost had to turn back to my older ways because what we need a lot of the time is a calmer head with the fire that we have.

"There's never a doubt that the boys are giving 100% but we need to make sure we keep the fire in the heart and the ice in the head and have that kind of mentality."

Budd now has 23 test caps under his belt for Italy, which includes a clash against the All Blacks on their European tour last year, and soon he'll be facing them on the sport's biggest stage.

"Hopefully New Zealand is comfortable that they've already qualified and we can go out there and really give them a fright."

Budd will likely step aside to allow veteran skipper Sergio Parisse to retake the helm for their Pool B clash on October 12. But the 36-year-old has only so much rugby left, and Budd appears the heir apparent.

First and foremost come the Canadians, who will be raring to go in their first match of the tournament.

Having played a season there in 2010, Budd has fielded plenty of text message banter over the last week, and he only needed to look at Uruguay's shock upset over Fiji on Wednesday for a reminder against complacency.

"We know that we're going to have to really stop the Canadians early, because if they get their tails up it's going to be all go."

"But we've got our sights set on big things this World Cup."

Win or lose, Budd's beaming mother will be on hand with a smile and plenty of encouragement.

"I'm the proudest mum in New Zealand and Italy," she says with a smile.

Join us for live updates of Italy v Canada from 7:45pm Thursday