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Italy rugby great Sergio Parisse bid farewell to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome this weekend with another bitter disappointment as the Azzurri snatched a 25-14 defeat from the jaws of victory against France.
Even in defeat—his 104th in an Italy jersey—the 35-year-old Parisse was the star of the show, setting up Tito Tebaldi's second-half try to cap a dominant performance which earned the skipper the Man of the Match award.
It was the final Six Nations game for 138-cap Parisse and fellow Italy veterans Leonardo Ghiraldini (104) and Alessandro Zanni (111). But it ended with a 22nd consecutive defeat in the tournament, a fourth consecutive Wooden Spoon for a whitewash and Ghiraldini's knee injury.
"There's frustration at such a missed opportunity," said No. 8 Parisse of "probably" his last game in Rome.
"I don't know if it's my last game, we don't care," he said.
"I can't find the words because we leave this game with the feeling of having dominated.
"We lost so many opportunities."
Parisse's towering presence has accompanied Italy for nearly two decades.
Born in Argentina to Italian parents, Parisse arrived in Europe to play for Italy's youth teams.
He quickly established his reputation, and before he turned 19 had earned his first cap with a baptism of fire against the All Blacks in June 2002.
Seventeen years and 138 caps later, the Stade Francais captain has spent half of his life in the Italy jersey.
The World Cup in Japan from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2 should mark the end of his international career, allowing him to close the gap on New Zealand's Richie McCaw's record of 148 caps.
In the Six Nations, Parisse is already out in front with a record 69 matches played, 51 as captain, overtaking Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll's 65 this campaign.
It's About Being There To Compete
And as for losing? He's been there before. Parisse has lost 104 test matches in his career, easily the most of any international. The top eight in that list are all Italians, with Gareth Jenkins of Wales and the British & Irish Lions #9 at 70.
But the losses speak to the quality of the man. In true rugby fashion, Parisse pitched-up despite overwhelming odds. He didn't pass up a chance to play for his country, and didn't back down from a challenge.
For Parisse now, there's talk of Rugby World Cup 2019, but in typical fashion, he was instead thinking of his teammate, Leonardo Ghiraldini, who suffered a knee injury in the loss to France, an injury that could mean he misses the World Cup.
"At the end of the game, seeing Leo with crutches was hard," said an emotional Parisse. "There is so much work behind the scenes. With Leo we have experienced many things and seeing him on crutches is unfair. I know he will do everything to recover for the World Cup because, believe me, I don't care about what will be written between now and September, we want to go there to follow our dream."
Head coach Conor O'Shea, asked if he thinks about Italy rugby without his iconic No. 8 said, "Yes, all the time."
He knows that day will happen, and he wants everyone to know that Sergio Parisse, with his 33 wins, one tie and 104 losses ... all of them ... mattered.
"I want to be able to sit down in 10 years with Sergio with a beer in Rome, watching a match of a competitive Italy every week at the highest level and say 'we were part of that,'" said O'Shea. "I've never met anyone like him, as a player and man. He's amazing. It has been a privilege to know him."
Emmeline MOORE / © Agence France-Presse