The approaching 2020 Six Nations Championship will be one marked by changes. Four of the six teams will start the competition with new head coaches, France is embracing a new era with a youthful squad, and Ireland too is contemplating life with both a new coach and new captain.
This year will also mark the final campaign for a Six Nations legend: Italian captain Sergio Parisse, who announced that he will be retiring at the conclusion of the campaign. In a competition where Italy has struggled collectively to make an impact, Parisse is the one player who could be described as genuinely world-class. He has been a mainstay in the Azzurri squad since he made his national-team debut in 2002, providing a firm presence in the number eight position.
He had initially planned to retire after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but Typhoon Hagibis denied him a farewell fixture against New Zealand. Instead, he will continue to play in Italy’s home games at this year’s Six Nations, giving him a romantic Rome finale to his stellar career. As Parisse’s journey in international rugby comes to an end, let’s take a look at a few reasons why the Italian is such a revered figure in the game.
Textbook number eight
If you need a prime example of all the attributes a number eight should possess, both technically and physically, you need to look no further than Parisse. It is a position that perhaps requires more dynamism than any other, and the Italian has embodied all the characteristics of the modern number eight – power and strength to drive with the ball, acute tactical awareness, a commanding presence at the base of the scrum, and much more.
His career is perhaps not decorated with the trophies that would befit the third-most capped player in international rugby history, but that takes nothing away from Parisse’s supreme qualities on the field and his ability to make a difference in matches. For those who love watching the blood-and-thunder of a modern, roving number eight, they will miss Parisse’s presence in future Six Nations Championships.
Parisse has captained the Azzurri for over a decade, matching his expert technical qualities on the pitch with a distinct presence as a leader. In a team where wins are few and far between, a good leader is vital to instill belief in the squad and get the best out of his teammates. Parisse has done this to great effect and has led from the front of the occasions where Italy did secure victories – memorably against France in 2011, and Ireland and France in 2015.
Parisse is everything you want in an international rugby captain – loud and energetic on the field, demonstrating fierce determination and spurring on his teammates to continue to perform in spite of the difficulties faced. This year, Italy is once again likely to end up with the wooden spoon, but perhaps the team will be inspired to produce a strong showing for their captain. After all, the Azzurri enjoyed a decent World Cup campaign, so they may be a good shout for some matches in Six Nations betting.
It is a difficult thing to excel in a team that consistently loses, and that makes the high regard in which Parisse is held all the more impressive. Most would consider him among the greatest number eights of all time, and he is a figure who Italian rugby supporters can rally around and take pride in.
It will be a sad moment when the curtain falls on Parisse’s career, but he retires with the respect and admiration of rugby fans all around the globe.