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Italy back row Jake Polledri announces retirement aged 28

By Josh Raisey
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Italy and Zebre back row Jake Polledri has announced his immediate retirement from rugby after failing to recover from his “catastrophic knee injury” in 2020.

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The English-born Italy international has been beset by injuries ever since a devastating knee injury against Scotland four years ago, where he ruptured all three cruciate ligaments in his knee, tore his hamstring off the bone, tore his calf and fractured his leg.

The former Gloucester forward subsequently suffered ‘drop foot’ as a result of the knee injury- a paralysis of the foot due to damage to the nerve running from the knee.

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After two years out of action, the 20-cap Italy international was able to return for the Cherry and Whites, signing a new contract with the club, and went on to earn a final cap for Italy in 2023.

It was on his return to Test rugby against England at Twickenham in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations that Polledri suffered a shoulder injury which required surgery and ended his season prematurely. Soon after the injury, he announced that he would be joining Zebre in the United Rugby Championship this season.

The powerful ball carrier did recover to make his Zebre debut, but shared in a statement on social media that his foot has not returned to 100 per cent.

One of the strongest players with ball in hand in the Gallagher Premiership, or indeed world rugby, Polledri was long seen as Sergio Parisse’s successor in the Italy No8 shirt.

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After making his Italy debut in 2018 at the age of 22, the 106kg forward quickly established himself as a vital member of the Azzurri’s back row, going on to beat an eye-watering 27 defenders in just three pool stage matches at the 2019 World Cup.

The future of Italy’s back row looked very bright after that World Cup, but they have been robbed of another injury-plagued rising star of Italian rugby, with Matteo Minozzi also announcing his retirement last month. 

Polledri wrote on Instagram: “From Rugby Tots to a Rugby World Cup, over the past 20+ years rugby has been my life. It has opened my eyes to many countries, formed great friendships and kept my brain in gear when times have been tough.

“Some of my best memories have been made in the Azzurri Jersey. For that, I am so thankful to Italy for believing in me and supporting my rugby.

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“Playing International Rugby was a wild childhood dream that lived up to every expectation. From Summer Tours, to Six Nations and breaking Records in the Japan 2019 RWC.

“My return to the pitch from my catastrophic knee injury in 2020 was tough. A lot of people wrote me off immediately, which didn’t deter me. From complete paralysis in my foot to 677 days later being able to run out at Gloucester Kingsholm again. The support from the Kingsholm fans was immense and is cherished.

“Thank you to Gloucester for all the years of support, I could not have recovered this far without the incredible team of physios and S&C. Enabling me to uphold my promise to my late brother Sam, that I was to return to the pitch.

“My foot however hasn’t returned back to 100% and ultimately it has affected my ability to return to the high level of rugby I played, and it has also affected life generally. I have reluctantly accepted that my body and professionals are telling me to retire from the sport that I love.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Jake Polledri (@jakepolledri)

“Thank you to Zebre for giving me a shot to get back to the field. To which we achieved after a few shoulder surgeries. The medical team and S&C at Zebre have been amazing without them I wouldn’t have been able to hold my son Oakley on the pitch. This was an unforgettable experience. My time in Italy although short has been amazing and I have met some great people.

“I look forward to my next chapter and I will remain positive in what it can bring. Carrying that rugby & family mentality in whichever role I take on next.

“Thank you to all who have offered support in following my journey, messaging, or saying hello in the street. The Rugby family is amazing, no matter what team or country.”

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