Italy will become the fourth country to host the IRB Junior World Championship in 2011 and Sergio Parisse hopes the prestigious Under 20 tournament will leave a lasting legacy for rugby in the country long after the champions have been crowned.
Parisse, the captain and heartbeat of the Italian national side, is only too aware the difficulties rugby faces in his football mad country but believes that the Junior World Championship will take the oval ball game to a new audience and help to raise its profile.
“When Italy hosts every important championship, I think the interest of people to see a world championship is very important, even if it is at Junior or Under 20 level,” Parisse told Total Rugby Radio on the eve of last week’s announcement of the dates, venues and pools for JWC 2011.
“Rugby is not the most important sport in our country, so if people know about our sport, if they know they have the chance to see rugby, to have the possibility to go to a tournament like that in Italy I think it is a good thing to try and have more interest in our sport.
“I think for that reason it is going to be good for our rugby, not just for the players who will be involved in this competition but also for people who don’t know anything about rugby to go and see the matches of the Italian team as well as the other matches.
“It is good, especially for us in Italy, to get more people thinking about rugby and obviously for us in the first team it is very important seeing the young guys play. There are a couple of guys who played in the junior team who are now in the first team, so it is better to see new guys playing.
Italy's rugby region
“Obviously the Championship and playing at home is a very important responsibility for the Italian young guys and for Italian rugby. I hope the junior guys do well in the competition and I hope this Championship can help to continue to build our rugby in our country.
“If you are talking about rugby, Italy is a country with a young history. We really need to have young players coming through and more young guys involved in our sport to have the possibility to one day be more competitive and be a big nation of rugby.”
A veteran of 70 caps for the Azzurri, Parisse believes the selection of the Veneto region – and Treviso, Rovigo and Padova in particular – to host the Junior World Championship from 10-26 June is a wise move.
“The north of Italy is the most important region of Italy for rugby,” he explained. “The two sides playing in the Celtic League – Treviso and Aironi – are both in the north of Italy and many of the guys in the Italian team come from the north of Italy and cities like Rovigo, Petraca, Treviso and Parma.
“All the history of Italian rugby comes from the north of Italy, so I think it is an important thing to host the tournament because the best place to play rugby in Italy is in the north, even if in the centre with teams like Roma and L’Aquila have a lot of history too.
“It is a good choice to have the matches there, I think that there are going to be more people involved in the Championship and also more people going to see the matches in those cities.”
Passing on experience
The charismatic number 8, who admits it is a “special feeling” to play for his country on home soil, was only 18 when he made his Italian debut against the All Blacks in New Zealand back in June 2002 and knows the value of getting such experience at a young age.
“I had the chance to have a coach like John Kirwan to give me the confidence and to give me the opportunity to play in the first team even though I was very, very young to play,” explained the 27-year-old, who plays his club rugby for Stade Français in the French Top 14.
“When you are very young you are trying to learn every time from the best players around the world, trying to improve with every game you play with you team or your national team. It was very, very hard the first two or three years, but I think it was a very good experience for me.”
Parisse is keen to pass on those experiences to the next generation of Italian players, talking with people at the FIR’s Academy and giving advice to youngsters about taking their training seriously, never stopping to work hard or strive to improve if they wish to follow in his footsteps.
“Personally, I try to talk a lot with the young guys. This month, the first team are working with some young guys who are playing at the Under 20 or Under 19 level and they come to do some camps with the national team.
“It is very good to get to know these guys and to work with them and try to give them some advice as they are trying to get better and they must continue to work because I think that is the only way to be a good player.”