Italy legend Sergio Parisse has announced he will retire from rugby at the end of the season but is still holding out hope for one final swansong in the Azzurri jersey.
Parisse has a strong case to be considered Italy’s greatest rugby player of all time – having been a stalwart of the back row since making his international debut back in 2002.
His 142 Test caps trail only Wales’s Alun Wyn Jones and New Zealand’s Richie McCaw in the all-time list, while he also played 69 Guinness Six Nations matches between 2004 and 2019.
He was due to retire from international rugby after the 2019 World Cup but changed his mind when Italy’s final group game against the All Blacks was cancelled due to an incoming typhoon.
The coronavirus pandemic put paid to a scheduled farewell Test appearance against England in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and although he hasn’t pulled on the Azzurri jersey since that World Cup, he is keen to squeeze in one last appearance if possible.
“It would be a nice ending to be able to play again in front of the Italian public but it is not an obsession,” he said.
“I am in contact with the new president and the new coach. There is also a desire on the part of the Italian leadership to give me the chance to make one last match.
“But I never liked, in my professional career, to have gifts. I could have continued with Italy and had 150 caps instead of 142 but it is not what I want. Records don’t interest me.”
Parisse has played the majority of his club career in France – representing Stade Francais from 2005 to 2019, before moving to Toulon, where he is currently trying to help them improve on an eighth-place finish in the Top 14 last season.
The No.8 – who turns 38 years old today – also works with the academy players at the club and coaches the lineout, meaning he has no hesitation in confirming that he will hang up his playing boots come the end of the campaign.
“It’s certain because you mustn’t push things too far, especially at the physical level because mentally, I feel very fresh,” he said.
“Everyone knows their body and knows what they are capable of doing. I knew I had the mental and physical strength to make a final season. It was also a discussion with the club.
“At 38, there are questions that arise. With the club, we all agreed that it was a good decision. Now it’s up to me to have fun with every game.”
Whether Parisse gets the final appearance for his country that his incredible career deserves or not, his place in the history books has long since been secured.