Legend is often a description used for Sergio Parisse, but the former Italy captain has used it to describe Alessandro Zanni, the 36-year-old who has announced his retirement from playing.

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The flanker/lock is set to take up a strength and conditioning role with Benetton Treviso, the Guinness PRO14 club he represented at a player the past eleven years after joining from Calvisano in 2009. 

With 119 caps, he has retired as the joint-second most capped Italy player (tied with Martin Castrogiovani) behind Parisse. Both players are the same age and came through Italian age-grade rugby together, so it was fitting Parisse shared a message on Instagram after the flanker announced his retirement.

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“From the freshman I met in the U19s to the thousand games together, training on the field, sitting in the gym trying to keep up with you, the tournaments, the Six Nations, the World Cup with the blue shirt and all the moments lived off the field: it was really a pleasure and an honour!”

Zanni was also the player that frequently deputised at No8 when Parisse was unavailable, notably during the 2010 Six Nations. 

His last appearance in professional rugby was in the loss to Scotland at the Stadio Olimpico in the Six Nations this year, which was Italy’s last game before the suspension of the tournament as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Having made his debut in November 2005 against Tonga three years after Parisse, Zanni was not necessarily always in the limelight given the prominence of his back row partner.

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Regardless, he was consistently a member of the Italian set-up after making his debut, competing in four World Cups and playing right through to this year’s Six Nations, even playing in the second row over the past two years of his career.

Zanni said: “When a career ends it is a very hard and difficult moment because you realise that the greatest passion you have, which is to play rugby, will be gone overnight. I started playing rugby in 1991 – quite a few years have passed.”

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