PIRATES chief Matt Ford named Italian international Nico Covatti his first signing for 2019 and insisted: “He will give us a real sting in the tail.”

The 30-year-old impressed during five outings at Wimborne Road this year, convincing promoter Ford to prioritise securing his signature.

He scored six paid eight and 11 paid 14 as a reserve for Somerset, adding five paid eight and six paid eight as a heat leader.

Covatti also racked up nine paid 10 when guesting in Poole’s home win over Belle Vue in July.

The Argentina-born star, who will start the campaign at reserve on a 4.70 average, had been a target for several SGB Premiership clubs but Pirates moved swiftly to recruit their man.

Ford told the Daily Echo: “I intended to bring Nico down for the 70th anniversary meeting at the start of this year because I wanted to see how he went at Poole before making plans for the future.

“But sadly that meeting was called off and in May he joined Somerset and showed what he is capable of.

“He is a vastly-improved rider in the past two years. He has ridden exceptionally well on the continent.

“He was in the Grand Prix Challenge which shows the ability he has and that he is clearly getting better.

“Last year he rode at Poole a handful of times and was a real pain in our backside so I made the decision at that time that should there be an opportunity to work with him in 2019, we would do so.

“With Somerset pulling out of the league, it was an easy path to take, although he was wanted by several other clubs.

“I contacted Nico while we were still at the AGM and I’m pleased to say that contract was effectively signed and sealed before I left Chepstow.

“He is the first rider of our reserve pairing and will give us a real sting in the tail.”

Covatti, an asset of the British Speedway Promoters’ Association, will double up with Somerset in the Championship.

The former Ipswich, Sheffield and Birmingham racer helped the Rebels win the Knockout Cup this year before the Oaktree Arena side elected to drop down a level.

Ford added: “It’s right that he is the first one announced in the team. He was really the only rider I had as a certainty when I went away to Abu Dhabi with the boys.

“I wanted to make sure I was making the best move possible for the team and was giving us a very competitive one-to-seven.

“While contracts are still being done, I’m pleased with how things are progressing.”

Covatti is set to be partnered at reserve by a rider with a lower average.

Pirates’ new recruit has featured in two Grand Prix rounds, on both occasions as a wild card.

In 2012, he scored three points at Terenzano before competing at the same venue the following year.

However, he scored just two points and ended a miserable meeting by fracturing his wrist.