Sergio Parisse believes Italy can be this World Cup's 'Japan' with Tier 1 superpower in the crosshairs
Reaching the quarter-finals was always going to be a stretch for an Italian side that has never escaped the groups before.
But being paired with champions New Zealand and South Africa, who have won five of the eight previous editions of the tournament between them, has made the task infinitely harder.
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Don’t try telling Sergio Parisse that, though.
The Azzurri captain is heading to his fifth and final World Cup in Japan in a pragmatic, yet optimistic, mood.
“We aren’t favourites,” he said.
“We’re realistic about that, we know there’s a big chance that South Africa and New Zealand will get through.
“But we’re working to make something big and to achieve something big you must do something that you’ve never done before.”
In November 2016, Parisse led his side to their first-ever win over the Springboks as they triumphed 20-18 in an November Test match in Florence.
The defeat came just a year on from the southern hemisphere powerhouse’s shock defeat by Japan at the 2015 World Cup.
Much has changed since then and the teams who started that day are largely unrecognisable from those that will line up when they meet in Shizuoka on October 4 in their third pool game.
“We are doing massive work in every single sector of our game,” the 35-year-old backrow warrior added.
“Physically, in our preparation for the games, not just on fitness and rugby but in other little things like nutrition, how we sleep, breathing, everything.
“We are trying to do everything we can to give ourselves every chance to improve. We want to arrive at that game against South Africa saying we’ve done everything we can to make it happen and win the game.
“Maybe we’ll win, maybe not, but in terms of how we prepare we want to finish the World Cup with no regrets.”
Conor O’Shea’s Italy side warmed up for the tournament with heavy losses away to Ireland, France and England and a comfortable home win over Russia.
Those defeats continued a poor run against fellow Six Nations contestants that has seen the Azzurri lose a record 22 consecutive matches in the annual tournament and pick up the wooden spoon for four years in a row.
Parisse will take his World Cup bow before making the tough call on whether to end his 17-year international career altogether after the tournament.
Rugby Explorer with Jim Hamilton – Italy:
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