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Sergio Parisse uncovers exactly what he went through when retiring

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Sergio Parisse, the Toulon assistant coach, looks on during the Investec Champions Cup match between Northampton Saints and RC Toulon at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on December 15, 2023 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Italian rugby legend Sergio Parisse never wanted to stop. Ending his rugby career was always his biggest fear, as he confessed to Mathieu Bastareaud in the BastaShow, exclusively on RugbyPass TV.

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“My passion for this sport is almost an obsession,” admits the former number eight, who was capped 142 times between 2002 and 2019.

“I’ve been playing and breathing rugby since I was a kid. When you’re used to it for so many years, you’re afraid to stop. There was a fear of saying to yourself: ‘when it’s over, it’s over’. And today I realise that.

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“All the emotions I experienced on the pitch as a player are over. And even though I only stopped playing a short while ago, I already miss it.”

Victim of a typhoon

His international career came to an abrupt end on 12 October 2019, when it was swept away by Typhoon Hagibis, which forced World Rugby to cancel the final two pool matches of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

For Parisse, that match against New Zealand (ironically the country he started his international career against) would have been his last. He had announced it, he had prepared for it. But Hagibis decided otherwise.

For a long time, the back-row felt a certain bitterness, but he was able to move on and dedicate himself to a club career that lasted 21 years. 377 games in all for just three clubs: Benetton Treviso (2002-2005), Stade Français (2005-2019) and RC Toulon (2019-2023).

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It was in Toulon on 19 May 2023 that the player announced the definitive end of his career, on the evening of their Challenge Cup victory, at the same time as Bastareaud. This time, the well-deserved farewell was honoured.

Both stayed with their clubs. Basta became manager and Parisse was handed the keys to the touchline, an area in which he had always excelled. But the transition was not an easy one.

Sergio Parisse

A change of life

“Today it’s going very well compared to the beginning,” he tells BastaShow. “Not necessarily in terms of training. In fact, I had issues organising my life. For 20, 22 years, your schedules, the way you organise your training, your matches, your care, everything is done, everything is planned, and you follow it.

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“When you’re used to doing that for 20 years, from the moment you become a coach, when you spend more time in the office, in front of the computer, preparing for training sessions and staying afterwards, your life changes and your schedule changes completely.

“It was difficult for me at first to get back into this dynamic, this new rhythm. Now I’ve found my own pace and rhythm. I feel better.”

Used to being taken by the hand, this time it was he who took the others by the hand.

“I was surprised by the amount of work that goes into training, preparation and relationships with the players,” he admits.

“I was lucky enough to start my coaching career at the same club where I finished, so I coach a lot of players that I shared the pitch with. That’s made it easier for me to develop a human relationship with the players. I know what each player’s personality is like, who the more introverted players are, who you need to talk to in private…

“It wasn’t very complicated because I knew the group. But I was very surprised by the amount of work that went into it.”

The difficulty of getting the same message across

The biggest difficulty for him has been trying to get his message across to players who are more or less receptive to it.

“Sometimes it’s very frustrating. But that’s the beauty of the job,” he says. “When you coach, you coach a lot of players, not just one. I have a guy like Esteban Abadie and when you talk to him about the touchline, we see the same things. On the other hand, there’s another player – I won’t mention any names – that’s where the coach has to be good, and that’s what I try to be, to adapt your way of communicating and giving information.

“At first, it’s a bit frustrating, you think: How can you not see that, it’s obvious!’ But I’m learning. The aim is for everyone to understand.”

Controlling emotions

The other difficulty Sergio Parisse has had to face is managing his emotions during a match. After all, you don’t wipe away 21 years of a player’s career in a few months by becoming the man who gives instructions, trains his successors and watches (and suffers!) from the stands.

“I remember my first game as a coach,” he recalls. “We were at Lyon. We’d played two warm-up games, and this was our first Top 14 match. The adrenaline was pumping. I was stressed, I was shaking.

“And at half-time, I felt like a player. I wanted to pass on a message to the players, but I was too emotional. When I’m a player and I see my coach coming off the pitch all stressed out, it’s going to stress me out even more. When you’re a player, you need a calm, clear coach who says the right things. That was difficult.

“I have a little bit more experience. You can prepare your training sessions during the week, but on match day, that’s when you have to be really good because you have to control your emotions. You’re not playing, so you can’t control anything on the pitch. But you have to be able to convey emotions while being clear and precise. You must have the right balance.

“I know that experience will help me to strike the right balance between conveying emotions, because in our sport that’s very important, and at the same time being clear-headed and very clear when you pass on your messages to the players.”

Now in fourth place in the Top 14 with two games remaining before the finals, Sergio Parisse has not failed in his mission and has improved with time. It will have taken him at least one season to settle into the new role, but now he’s content in this new life in rugby.

Watch the BastaShow exclusively on RugbyPass TV

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