Sergio Matteo Parisse
Age 27 (12 September 1983)
Birthplace La Plata, Argentina
Position No 8
Weight 16st 5lb
Height 6ft 5in
Club Stade Français
Italy caps 77
Italy points 33 (6T, 1DG)
Sergio Parisse is one of the world’s best No 8s – and the Azzurri need him to hit even greater heights this autumn
Chances are we’ll still be writing about Sergio Parisse four years from now, when the Italian will be just 31, so god only knows what we’re going to do for superlatives then. It’s hard enough now to find the words to describe one of the world’s great No 8s, who has won 77 caps for his country, led them in 29 Tests, scored six Test tries and dropped a goal in a Six Nations match. Oh, and he has a beauty queen for a wife.
Other No 8s have had their moments in the past few years – Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip and Imanol Harinordoquy of France to name but two – but few have been so staggeringly consistent as Parisse, especially in a side that spends a lot of time on the back foot.
Since the moment Parisse made his international debut against the All Blacks in 2002, he’s been the driving force in the Italian pack, the man to whom his team-mates look for inspiration. And the 27-year-old rarely disappoints. Whether it’s a thundering charge upfield, a shuddering tackle in his 22, a deft offload out of contact or a drop-goal against Scotland, Parisse is as consummate a loose forward as you’re ever likely to find.
On top of it all Parisse has the temperament to match his talent, the reason why Nick Mallett appointed him captain when he became coach of Italy after the last World Cup.
“Sergio is a player who has personality and is respected by his team-mates, referees and opponents, all of which are fundamental to becoming skipper,” said Mallett at the time. “He’s good at the lineout, he’s strong around the field and he’s got a good rugby brain.”
Even Italy’s adversaries can’t hide their admiration for Parisse. Wales head coach Warren Gatland – a man not known for dishing out lavish praise – said of him: “He has the complete range of skills. He is a major player in terms of carrying the ball, so we have to make sure we don’t give him an opportunity to get into the game too much and lift the Italian side. He’s such a good player that he’s capable of doing that.”
That’s not to say Parisse has had it all his own way in the past decade. In June 2009 he was suspended for eight weeks following Italy’s defeat to New Zealand in Christchurch. Television footage showed his fingers making contact with an All Black’s eye and while the action was deemed reckless rather than intentional, Parisse still copped a ban. Later that year he suffered a nasty knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2010 Six Nations.
In retrospect, however, the enforced break probably did Parisse the power of good, allowing him to rest and recuperate after seven years of non-stop rugby. Certainly when he returned to the fray last season he looked in wondrous nick. At 6ft 5in and 16st-plus, he has the ideal physique for the modern No 8 – solid enough for the close-quarter stuff but lean enough to tear round the park.
It’s a physique that also holds some appeal for rugby’s female fans. Voted the sexiest player of the 2003 World Cup, Parisse is a regular in Stade Français’ Dieux de Stade nude calendar, and he and his wife are often seen in the pages of France’s glossy magazines. However, unlike one or two British rugby stars who have a penchant for appearing in the gossip columns, Parisse – who has been based in Paris with Stade Français since 2005 – hasn’t allowed his off-field activities to detract from his rugby.
Perhaps that’s in part explained by the fact that rugby runs deep in the Parisse soul. His father, also Sergio, was a decent player and helped L’Aquila win the Italian club championship in 1967. A few years later Parisse senior’s job with the airline Alitalia took him to Argentina, where he met and married fellow Italian Carmels. Sergio junior was born in La Plata in 1983.
The Parisses later returned to Italy where the young Sergio joined the Treviso club and after just one game of senior rugby John Kirwan, the All Black winger turned Italy coach, handed Parisse his Test debut. Kirwan said at the time that Parisse reminded him of his former team-mate Zinzan Brooke, a major compliment for a teenager. Nine years on and it’s Zinzan who should be flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Parisse.
This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.
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