Major teams: Stade Français
Test span: 2002-
Test caps: 140
Rugby’s Greatest: Sergio Parisse
Few current players are as universally admired and lauded as Sergio Parisse. Rarely is a bad word written or spoken about Italy’s talismanic captain in the sporting media as his astonishing handling skills, powerful athleticism and undying determination light up the Azzurri’s performances year after year.
His parents are Italian but he was born in Argentina while his father, also Sergio, worked there. Sergio senior had played for L’Aquila and Sergio junior started out with La Plata, before transplanting his Italian roots to Treviso in his late teens. He was still three months short of his 19th birthday when Italy coach John Kirwan handed him his first Test cap in June 2002.
Three years later the all-round talent of this 6ft 5in back-rower prompted Stade Francais to sign him and he has blossomed for club and country in the decade since. “It seems as though he raises his game every time he plays for Italy,” said ex-England lock Tom Palmer. “He delivers every time.”
By the age of 24, Parisse had 50 caps and the Italian captaincy to his name, having taken over the helm from Marco Bortolami. He is now Italy’s most-capped player and the second most-capped forward in world rugby.
A rare blemish on his record came in 2009 when he was banned for eight weeks for gouging, but the positives far outweigh the negatives for a player who has twice been shortlisted for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award – in 2008 and 2013.
Strong in defence, reliable in the lineout and not adverse to launching the odd touch-finder or drop-goal, he is best known for his deft and devastating offloads. He has captained the Barbarians and Stade Francais, leading them to France’s Top 14 title.
His achievements are all the more remarkable because he has made his name in a struggling national side.