Italy legend Leonardo Ghiraldini has hung up his boots following a 14-year international career after announcing his retirement from rugby.
The hooker made his debut for the Azzurri against Japan back in 2006 and most recently pulled on the blue jersey during the final weekend of Autumn Nations Cup action in December, coming on as a replacement against Wales.
The 36-year-old won 107 international caps during that period, placing him fifth on Italy’s all-time list, behind only Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni, Alessandro Zanni and Marco Bortolami.
Almost half of those appearances, 53 in total, came in the Guinness Six Nations, with his Championship debut being an appearance off the bench against Ireland in Rome back in 2007.
He scored six tries in total during his Italy career but only one came in the Championship – when some neat interplay with Kelly Haimona saw him cross the whitewash against Scotland in 2017.
The likeable No.2 was a stalwart of the Azzurri front row for a decade and a half, with a commitment and physicality that earned the respect of teammates and opponents alike.
Many of Ghiraldini’s finest moments in an Italian shirt came against Scotland, as he helped his country to memorable victories in Rome in 2008 and 2010, as well as being part of a dominant pack display that downed the Scots 22-19 at BT Murrayfield during the 2015 Championship.
He also started the 2011 contest at the Stadio Flaminio when the Azzurri stunned reigning Grand Slam champions France 22-21, in addition to both of the Azzurri’s home victories in the 2013 Championship – 23-18 over Les Bleus and 22-15 over Ireland.
And Ghiraldini explained just how much it meant for him to have been involved with the national team for so long.
He said: “I have always given my all for the blue jersey, on and off the pitch. I’m aware that it is not a given to play for Italy, but doing everything I could to earn that right. Every call-up to the national team, I considered a unique and special occasion, enjoying it with all the possible energy, passion and respect because you can never take those moments for granted.”
At club level, after spending his early career in Italy with Petrarca, Calvisano and Benetton Treviso, Ghiraldini became a cult hero at Leicester Tigers – where he played two seasons between 2014 and 2016 – before joining Toulouse.
In the south of France, he again looked at home, becoming a fan favourite during a three-year spell with the club before his departure in 2019, while away from rugby, Ghiraldini has a degree in economics and an MBA in law & sport management.