Sergio Parisse will earn a share of Rugby World Cup history on Sunday but insists his focus is on victory for Italy against Namibia.
The Azzurri begin their campaign in Higashiosaka this weekend and, as expected, captain Parisse has been selected by Conor O’Shea to lead the side.
This appearance will make the Italy skipper just the third player to feature at five World Cups, joining compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa’s Brian Lima.
Parisse is also due to collect his 141st cap, meaning he moves level with Brian O’Driscoll as the second most-capped player of all time behind Richie McCaw.
But Parisse is determined to deliver team success rather than worrying about his individual achievements.
“I cannot wait to play on Sunday,” he said. “The preparation has been long and intense and we have built up well. We have prepared for this game against Namibia in the best way possible.
“It will be important to find our feet quickly. Playing my fifth World Cup for Italy is a point of pride but, at the moment, I’m not thinking about it. The team is the priority.”
— Italrugby (@Federugby) September 20, 2019
Coach O’Shea must also remain focused on the task at hand despite continued confusion over whether he will remain in his role beyond the tournament.
It had been suggested Franco Smith would replace O’Shea, although that was denied, and reports linked Rob Howley with the job before the Wales backs coach was sent home from Japan over an alleged breach of betting regulations.
Discussing the clash with Namibia, O’Shea said: “We have been preparing for this moment for a long time, going through several stages. Now we will finally take to the field.
“We have worked to a good level and now we want to demonstrate our value on the field. Our only goal now is to start the World Cup in the best way and get a good result against Namibia.”
Tjiuee Uanivi will captain Namibia, while Eugene Jantjies becomes their first player to appear at four World Cups.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Italy – Edoardo Padovani
The Azzurri finished the 2019 Six Nations bottom of the pile after seeing their run of consecutive defeats in the competition stretch to 22 matches. However, Padovani at least proved a bright spark, scoring tries against Scotland, Wales and Ireland as Italy threatened the occasional scare.
Namibia – Tjiuee Uanivi
Former Namibia captain Renaldo Bothma confirmed his international retirement ahead of the squad announcement, with Johan Deysel taking on the role. But the new skipper’s absence from the opener sees the responsibility on the shoulders of deputy Uanivi increase further.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Italy won the sides’ previous meeting 49-24 in 2001, but Namibia had come out on top in their prior two meetings in 1991.
– Not since 1991 against the United States have Italy began a World Cup campaign with a victory, losing their past six openers.
– This will be Namibia’s 20th World Cup match and they are still looking for their first win at the tournament.
– Italy’s only away Test win in their past 16 such matches came in Japan against the World Cup hosts in June last year.
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