Six Nations: Mighty Sergio Parisse the man who towers over Italy's failings


Captaining Italy is a job that demands an ability to man-manage an ever-evolving crisis. More often than not when Italy play, Italy lose and it was John Kirwan, the former All Black great and then Italy coach, who once neatly summed up the end-game for the captain as "invariably dealing with the crisis of defeat". It is a fire -fighting role in the Towering Inferno.

Kirwan gave Sergio Parisse his first cap 11 years ago and drew comparisons between the rangy young man and Zinzan Brooke. He knew what he was talking about, as did a later Italy coach Nick Mallett when he took the decision to appoint Parisse his captain five years ago. The South African is another of rugby's coaching globetrotters to have been mightily impressed by Parisse.

The player's return to the Italy side after the reduction of his suspension for swearing at the referee during a game for Stade Français is a huge fillip for the visitors to Twickenham on Sunday. It may not have any bearing on the result – this is an Italian team that does not travel well, as one away win in the Six Nations lays bare – but it will make the outcome more challenging for England in general and their back row and half-backs in particular, and it will certainly lift his team-mates. That is what happens when one of the world's leading players pulls on the shirt, all 6ft 5in of him. It's like Ryan Giggs running out for Wales, or George Best for Northern Ireland, only with more oomph and never a question over his utter commitment.

Parisse will collect his 94th cap at the age of 29. It will be his 41st outing in the Six Nations – and only seven times has he finished on the winning side. The last was in the opening round of this Six Nations when he was at the heart of Italy's victory over France. That was a sit-up-and-take-note triumph, though regular viewers of Italian rugby were soon slouched back on the couch as the team was drubbed in Edinburgh – another false dawn, another crisis of defeat.

Parisse has spent much of his season in crisis management. He captains Stade, too, and the Parisian giants are struggling in the lower reaches of the Top 14. Three weeks ago they beat Bordeaux-Bègles in Paris but finished the game without their captain after he received an abrupt red card for swearing at the referee. Parisse denies having said anything out of line. "It's a big mistake, sir," he yelled in French as he made his way off. "Shitty call," he suggested once he reached the touchline.

A 40-day ban followed – his second major punishment after an eight-week penalty for eye-gouging in New Zealand in 2009 – with 10 of them suspended. On appeal it was reduced to 20 and that runs its course today.

It means Italy have their totem restored for Twickenham, one of seven changes to the side beaten convincingly by Wales two weeks ago. Luciano Orquera, man of the match against France, mug of the match against Scotland, is restored at 10. Five of those changes come in the pack. Forward power was supposed to be Italy's saving grace. But that failed against Wales. Parisse will bring back dynamism even if it has the makings of another lonely afternoon of crisis management for the man born in Argentina.

There is nothing plastic, though, about his nationality – his parents are Italian, his rugby-playing father's work took the family to South America, where his son was born. Parisse grew up speaking Italian at home and has been playing in Italy since he was 17. A year later Kirwan called and sent him out to make his debut against New Zealand. It was the toughest start but it was also the start of something special – this is a man with no equals at home and few anywhere in that sizeable No 8 shirt.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments