Sergio Parisse, Italian class
Some players are gifted. There are players with talent. And then there are players with class. Sergio Parisse undeniably falls into this third category, that of stylish, elegant players who light up the game and invent new moves.
Born in Argentina to Italian parents, Sergio discovered rugby at Club Universitario de La Plata. He quickly stood out from the crowd. Almost 2 metres tall, weighing just over 100 kilos, he had golden hands and rare speed for such a big man. John Kirwan's Italy were making eyes at him. And Parisse found himself making the journey to his parents' homeland, in the charming town of Treviso. That's where the story begins. At the age of 18, he signed his first pro contract for €800 a month. By the age of 19, he was a regular starter for his club. By the time he was 20, he was a key member of the Italian national team and played in his first World Cup, in Australia.
His coach, John Kirwan, was spellbound. And he was already being compared to the greats: Zinzan Brooke, Imanol Harinordoquy and Morné du Plessis. It has to be said that Parisse can do it all. A talented line-out jumper and a decent defender, Sergio's uniqueness lies in his ability to hold the ball up. Able to play before or after contact, to pass the arms, to take the intervals and even... to play on foot. All this would be quite normal if Sergio Parisse wasn't a forward.
A talent like that could not stay in Italy. So, perhaps because he too is different, certainly because the Italo-Argentine colony is present in force there, the most natural club for Parisse could only be... Paris. The Stade Français, with all its glitz, glamour and ambition. And as if the two were made for each other, the romance is total. Parisse is elegant and unpredictable, classy, yet singular, inspiring and, let's face it, sometimes astounding. The 8 is capable of carrying the ball 50 metres, of screwing in a pass like an opener, and his style is out of this world. He is adored by his supporters and respected by his opponents. And wherever he goes, he seems to single-handedly carry the ambitions of his teams. It's even worse with Italy, where he occasionally gives the impression of being the only talented player in a bottom-of-the-table team.
The love affair between Paris and its third row will last fourteen years. That's enough time to win two Top 14 titles (2007 and 2015) and a European Challenge (2017), and it's enough time to splash the championship with his class. Aerial, free-flowing and inspired, he can attack from fly-half position in the same match, deliver a decisive chistera and overrun a centre. But the spirited young third row has aged. And when Stade Français won the Brennus Shield in 2015, Sergio was already 32. A career can fly by when it's this full. What happens after this title? Complicated.
Love makes time pass, time makes love pass. At 36, the club of his life no longer believed in him. Too old, too expensive. So the end of the road seemed to be drawing near. But one team was reaching out to him. The RCT, which has never been afraid to give experienced players a chance, offered him one last challenge. Initially for two seasons. Parisse would stay for four years. At the end of each season, the Italian colossus tried to put an end to his career. And each time, the devouring passion that drives him takes over. In 2021, he announced he was hanging up his boots. Then he didn't. In 2022, as radiant as ever on the pitch, he even announced his retirement, almost certain, on Canal+. "If I tell my wife I'm doing another season, she'll kill me," he said. Then he opens the door, "you should never say never". In the end, as unpredictable as he was on the pitch, Parisse extended his Toulon adventure one last time.
His history as a player is ending on a symbolic note. At the age of 39, the almost-doyen of the French championship set out one last time to conquer Europe. In the final of the Challenge, the only European Cup to have been offered to him, Toulon overthrew the Warriors in a deluge of tries (43-19). Parisse left the field in tears. So this time it really was over. After a career spanning almost 20 years, with 142 caps to his name and hundreds of unforgettable performances, Sergio Parisse will be putting his boots away.
Unless... Unless the almost forty-year-old offers himself one last challenge in the form of a final feint. Unless, in a supreme act of honour, he postpones his retirement for a few months to take part in the Rugby World Cup in France. That's a possibility. And even if he has to convince his wife...