When Italy’s Sergio Parisse runs out against Namibia today, he will join a very select band to have played five Rugby World Cups and the talismanic No. 8 is hoping that this year is to be the best yet.
When he first pulled on the Italy jersey, as an 18-year-old against New Zealand in 2002, he did not yet have the bald head that makes him immediately recognizable on the field, but coach Conor O’Shea is in no doubt as to Parisse’s place in the history of Italian rugby.
“It is difficult to put into words what Sergio brings to the team on and off the pitch,” the Irishman told reporters ahead of the Namibia clash. “The most important thing is his ability and he is probably the best Italian rugby player of all time.”
Most observers believe that Parisse would easily earn a place in more celebrated teams than Italy, for whom he has won a staggering 140 caps, including a record 66 in the Rugby Union Six Nations.
A 141st cap would put him equal with Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll and behind only All Black flanker Richie McCaw, the last man to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Having a fifth World Cup puts him alongside compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa legend Brian Lima.
However, as the consummate professional, Parisse is only thinking of the task ahead of him: the Pool B clash with Namibia at the Hanazono Stadium today.
“I’m proud, but I haven’t been thinking about this being my fifth World Cup. Honestly, I’m taking it a day and a training session at a time,” said Parisse, now 36 and playing his club rugby in Paris for Stade Francais. “The fifth hasn’t started and I hope it will be my best.”
Italy have a mountain to climb if they are to realize their dream of making the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time, drawn in the same pool as title contenders New Zealand and South Africa.
Hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini said that Parisse was “a superb player, even if he is really old.”
“On the pitch, his experience and quality are incredible, but he also plays a big role off the pitch — players like him are essential for a team,” Ghiraldini said.
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