Six Nations 2017: Sergio Parisse - the great carrying a nation

Sergio Parisse
Sergio Parisse (centre) has been capped 121 times for Italy
Six Nations 2017
Dates: Feb-18 March Coverage: BBC TV, Radio and online
Match: Italy v Wales, Date: Sunday 5 February, Time: 14:00 GMT, Station: BBC Radio 5 live

A quick glance through the Six Nations record books gives a clear picture of the greatness of Sergio Parisse.

Second behind Brian O'Driscoll in the list of most starts; second - also behind O'Driscoll - in the list of most minutes played.

By the end of this championship no man will have led his country in more matches than the Italian, who has carried more ball and made more metres than anyone in the tournament's history.

But the numbers don't tell the whole story; since his Six Nations debut in 2004, the number eight has regularly been the shining light in a losing team, arguably the sole 'world-class' player in the Azzurri ranks.

Another, less flattering, statistic: in his 55 championship matches, Parisse has won just nine times, a winning ratio of 17%.

The defeats would have taken their toll. Following the end of former coach Jacques Brunel's unspectacular period in charge, Parisse was ready to call time on his international career.

But on the eve of his 14th Six Nations championship, the 33-year-old finds himself more invigorated than ever.

"The last two years with Brunel were really difficult - especially from the motivational point of view," he admitted to BBC 5 live.

"I thought of finishing my international career. But I met Conor O'Shea and he gave me another vision of the future."

Sergio Parisse
Parisse said Italy coach Conor O'Shea (right) has given him "another vision of the future"

Not only was new Italy boss O'Shea able to talk Parisse out of retirement, but he also shared his ambitions for Italian rugby.

"We talk a lot and share ideas," Parisse explained. "Conor arrived with a lot of energy, with the idea not just to be the coach of the Italian team but to be a director of rugby in Italy.

"I want to leave a legacy and give to Italian rugby a lot of things on the field, but work with Conor in the background [as well], trying to help players in Italy improve.

"It is not an easy job, but as soon as you have people who are motivated, with energy, and clever enough to understand the things we have to change, [then] hopefully in 15 years we can meet in Rome for a beer and talk about the things we have done for Italian rugby."

Parisse reveals he could have taken up a lucrative contract in Japan last summer, in the process retiring from Azzurri duty.

Few would have blamed him for going down this route at this stage of his career, but the player says the pride of playing for his country trumped any financial motivation.

"I could have left the Italian team and played in Japan on a good contract, but I am a bit old school.

"For me what's important is putting on your jersey and representing something and putting on the Italian jersey for me is a huge honour. I have played 120 caps, but every time I go out in the Italian shirt I feel the same emotion as when I was 18."

Sergio Parisse
Scoring his first Test try against Canada in the 2003 Rugby World Cup

O'Shea's first few months as Italy coach provided huge signs of encouragement - a historic victory over South Africa in November the highlight - along with the traditional inconsistency, exemplified by the defeat by Tonga.

Meanwhile, the two professional clubs - Treviso and Zebre - are struggling on and off the field.

However Parisse feels the same players can flourish in the national set-up, as shown in the victory over the Springboks.

"When we beat South Africa there were 12 players on the pitch who played for Zebre, the same players who conceded 70 points to Leinster two weeks ago," he added.

"How can you explain that those players performed against South Africa? Because there were put in a good environment.

"The objective for us is to put the guys from Zebre and Treviso in a good environment to be competitive every single week."

And Parisse says he wants to give back to the game in Italy when he finishes his playing career.

"I would like to maybe in the future help as a coach or as a manager. Italian rugby is my responsibility today as captain, so maybe it could be my responsibility after my career."

Despite his advancing years, Parisse believes he is mentally and physically fresh ahead of the championship. Plenty to add to the record books yet.

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