Sergio Parisse isn’t just saying goodbye but wants to leave a lasting footprint on Italian rugby during his final Guinness Six Nations campaign, according to new Azzurri coach Franco Smith.
Smith has taken the Italy reins from Conor O’Shea, with Luca Bigi replacing Parisse as captain, and both men were at Tobacco Dock in east London on Wednesday for the official 2020 Guinness Six Nations launch.
Italy fixtures for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations (all times GMT)
Azzurri legend Parisse announced his retirement from international rugby following last autumn’s World Cup but has decided to play in at least one of Italy’s two home games during this year’s Championship – the Round 3 clash against Scotland and the Round 5 contest with England.
But Smith is insistent the 36-year-old – who has 142 Italy caps to his name – won’t just be making up the numbers in the back row.
“Sergio will form part of the last part of our campaign,” said the new coach. “Lots of people think it’s a last opportunity for him to say goodbye.
“That’s not our approach – he has said he wants to contribute for the last time. The challenge for him is to be best he can be for one last time in Italian jersey.
“It’s not just a chance to say goodbye, he wants to have a very good last game and leave that last footprint as an example.”
One man who could help fill Parisse’s metaphorically huge boots is explosive flanker Jake Polledri, who has already won 13 international caps.
And Smith highlighted the positive traits he believes the Gloucester Rugby man has exhibited in his young career.
“If you follow Gloucester, Jake Polledri – over the last couple of weeks around the park with ball in hand has been exceptional player,” added Smith.
“He’s very good in front of contact and in contact. He’s also a very good defender, so he will bring something to the team but I’m hoping for a change in approach from all our loose forwards.
“It will be a nice challenge for all them to adapt to the plan we have going forward.”
Coming into a new environment can often lead to some early teething problems – although four of the teams in this year’s Guinness Six Nations are in the same boat.
And Smith is excited about the challenge in front of him, as he laid out his expectations for the Azzurri this year.
“The biggest thing is to getting to know everybody,” the South African explained. “Getting out there and explaining how I see things.
“We will follow new processes at the start of the campaign, find our DNA and play to our strengths – that’s the first objective.
“Conor O’Shea did lots of good work that we can bounce on but we need to install our new processes and focus on that for this Six Nations.
“We will have to find the balance – the perfect blend of ball in hand and territory domination.”
And Italy skipper Bigi echoed his new coach’s thoughts ahead of their first match of this year’s Guinness Six Nations – the 20th anniversary of the Azzurri’s addition to the Championship – away to Wales in Cardiff.
“We are building our confidence with our new process,” said Bigi. “We want to be the best Italy we can be. That’s our goal in this Six Nations.”