Bitter Goodbye to Three of Rugby’s Greatest Gladiators

With the news yesterday that the Rugby World Cup final pool match between New Zealand and Italy has been cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, it brings with it the wretched realisation that Italy’s Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alessandro Zanni will not get the final send-off they so richly deserve. Erin McRitchie discusses all that the three titans have meant to the rugby world throughout their careers. 

Captain Sergio Parisse and his two long-time teammates will not get a last chance to say goodbye on the world stage. (Photo: Sky Sports)

It happens to everyone, to the very best. The day ultimately has to come for all professional rugby union players. The day when they have to bow out from the game they so love. The day that they grace the international stage for a final time.

We, as fans, remember the images of the goodbyes for years to come. Shane Williams, in front of a packed Millennium Stadium, head bowed as he stood arm in arm with his teammates to sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before a test match for the last time. Brian O’Driscoll carrying his daughter through his teammates guard of honour as he departed the Aviva Stadium field.

It could be argued that few men deserve such pomp and pageantry more than devoted Italian leaders Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alessandro Zanni. Three men who have given so much to their country’s international side. Throughout the years they have, quite literally, given their blood, sweat and tears to the Azzuri.

Their morals, determination and sheer ability have never been in question. Their dedication to a side which has struggled to prove itself for so long has been astounding. Their leadership exemplary. Their characters unrivalled.

Numbers and records seem frivolous in moments like this, but in time people will look through the history books of Italian rugby and acknowledge their impact. The leader, Parisse, who gave his all to a team for 17 years. The consistency in the blue jersey of Zanni for 14 years. The marvellous scrum leadership provided by Ghiraldini for 13 years.

They won’t think of that now. Instead, fans all over the world will think of all that these men have given to Italian rugby. Of how they played in a time period when Italy were known as little more than the unfortunate losers, yet they never once lost their faith. Never once did they disrespect their country’s jersey by not giving their very all in every match.

The three titans (seen above on their way to the tournament in Japan) have been the back bone of Italy’s team for over a decade. (Photo: @italrugby)

The emotion is said to have overcome the players upon hearing the news that their farewell match was cancelled. Rather poetic given the emotion they have dedicated to the blue of the Italian jersey for more than a decade.

Quite simply, they deserved more. They deserve one final match. One final moment of inspiration. Just one last outing, perhaps so we could feel that they truly understand just how appreciated they are, and how they have impressed us throughout the entirety of their careers.

The heart, inspiration and back bone of a team for so long. Sadly, every tale has its end. This, unfortunately, seems to be theirs. And if it is, the whole world of rugby union should rise to its feet and applaud.

It is the least that should be bestowed upon three of Italy’s greatest gladiators as they exit the coliseum of rugby for the last time.

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