There was a time when ‘Where is the next Diego Dominguez coming from?’ was such a common refrain in Italian rugby that finding his replacement resembled Argentina’s search for Diego Maradona’s successor.
While Tommaso Allan still has a way to go to approach Dominguez’s all-time points record for the Azzurri, he has established himself as the go-to man over the last two years in a way that few other successors to Dominguez’s crown have ever managed.
With that quandary resolved, the other question that starts to arise is how will Italy ever replace Sergio Parisse?
The Italy skipper is their all-time appearance maker, the most capped player in the history of the Guinness Six Nations, and unquestionably the greatest rugby player ever to represent the Azzurri.
There have been times when it seemed he was carrying the country on his own and that the gaping hole he would leave when he retired would be impossible to fill.
So Conor O’Shea must have enjoyed the performance put in by his back row against Canada – a game in which he had chosen to rest the 36-year-old captain.
Braam Steyn shifted to No.8, a position where he has plenty of experience for Benetton, while Jake Polledri and Sebastian Negri started on the flanks.
Polledri was rightly named man of the match in the 48-7 success, the biggest margin of victory in the World Cup so far in which Italy ran in seven tries in total.
His 14 defenders beaten and 106 metres made tell the story of a flanker who seems to bounce off defenders at will, and once the Canadian defence tired in the draining conditions in Fukuoka, those powerful carries turned into bullocking, long runs.
Polledri started the game in the No.7 jersey before shifting to the base of the scrum in the closing stages, and it is his carrying that stands out. In some ways he is reminiscent of Louis Picamoles in the way he is almost impossible to stop with just one man.
That is particularly impressive for a man playing at openside flanker. Other than perhaps Ardie Savea and Hamish Watson – sadly now out of the tournament – it is hard to think of many opensides who get over the gainline quite as consistently as Polledri.
The Gloucester flanker showed that he is not all about brute force though, it was his clever pass to Negri that saw the latter go in for a try in the second half, resisting the temptation to pick and go from a metre out when he saw his former Hartpury College teammate with a clear path to the line.
Negri enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in the 2018 Championship, and on this showing has even more progress to make. The pass he delivered for Mattia Bellini to go over was exquisite, and proof that he too is not just a big ball carrier.
With Steyn also grabbing a try from a first-half charge, this was a brutally efficient performance from the Italian back row, while Maxime Mbanda also made his presence felt off the bench.
The Azzurri will face the toughest of challenges in their next two matches against South Africa and New Zealand, but O’Shea will know that in the back row he has the depth to stand up to the southern hemisphere giants.
Parisse will play a crucial role in those games, but it must be a relief to all Italian fans that there is a future when he does finally hang them up.
The question of ‘Where is the next Sergio Parisse coming from?’ should not ring in our ears for the next two decades.