Sergio Parisse says head coach Conor O’Shea has given him extra motivation to keep extending his record-breaking Italy career.
The Italy captain admitted he could have quit Test rugby when head coach Jacques Brunel stepped down in 2016, but has credited former Ireland full-back O’Shea’s ambition and confidence for refreshing his desire to continue playing.
Parisse will extend his record as Italy’s most-capped player with his 128th Test appearance for the Azzurri against Ireland on Saturday.
O’Shea swapped Harlequins for Italy in the summer of 2016, and will now coach Italy in Dublin against Ireland for the first time in the Six Nations showdown at the Aviva Stadium.
Asked if he could possibly have quit Test rugby after Brunel’s departure, Parisse replied: “Yeah of course, I met Conor in Paris before he took the job.
“And we spoke a lot, and of course personally sometimes when I talk with someone you can feel quickly if it’s someone who wants to come just for a job and do nothing, or if it’s someone who will come and has ambition.
“Conor showed straight away he had that vision and ambition, he’s a young coach, doing a great job.
“Because he’s smart and intelligent, he talked so well and was really confident he could do something to change Italian rugby.
“I really loved that. He gave me an extra motivation as well to continue to play with the Italian team.
“But to work together with the coach as captain, it’s great when you have such a strong relationship.”
Italy were beaten by England in Rome in the first round, while Ireland snatched a last-minute win against France.
The loose-forward says Italy want to conjure a top-drawer performance in Dublin, to repay the hard work of O’Shea, who won 35 Ireland caps between 1993 and 2000.
“I don’t think the team is more motivated because we’re playing Ireland and because of Conor, but of course for him it’s special to come here, to coach the team at the Aviva Stadium,” added Parisse.
“But I think Conor prepared the week with the same spirit and emotion as the last game against England.
“I think Conor as well, he doesn’t care if we’re playing Ireland – he just wants to see the team perform well, a team that believes as we do in the system and the way we’re working.
“Every time he asks us to give everything and to think of the performance, and he takes full responsibility for that.
“So as captain, and as a team we really want to give him a very good performance here in Ireland, for us but also for him, because he’s doing such good work here with us, and he really does deserve a good performance from us.”