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Six Nations Rugby | Six Nations Legends: Leonardo Ghiraldini

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The final of these to interrupt into the facet was hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, who rapidly established himself as one in every of his nation’s all-time greats within the place – one in every of their eight males’s centurions.

Over 14 years, Ghiraldini performed for his nation 107 instances, captaining them on 17 events earlier than ultimately calling time on his profession in 2021.

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Like lots of the different greats of the Italian recreation – together with fellow centurion Marco Bortolami and the Bergamasco brothers – Ghiraldini got here via the ranks at Petrarch.

Throughout his time there, he caught the attention, incomes a giant popularity via his performances for the nation’s age-group sides.

A transfer to Calvisano in 2005 adopted on the age of simply 20, and it was not lengthy earlier than Ghiraldini obtained the inevitable call-up to the senior facet.

A tour to Japan in 2006 noticed Ghiraldini make his worldwide debut off the bench, steadily cementing a spot within the squad.

Worldwide breakthrough

Going through competitors from skilled campaigners Fabio Ongaro and Carlo Festuccia, Ghiraldini needed to work arduous to earn a beginning position, however he did get his first Check begin within the 2007 World Cup in opposition to Portugal.

That was his solely look in that match, however by 2008, he had gained over Nick Mallett and began each recreation of the Six Nations, together with the victory over Scotland on the ultimate day when Andrea Marcato’s late drop purpose sealed the win.

A primary Check attempt adopted that summer season in Argentina, and over the following decade, Ghiraldini was a close to ever-present for the Azzurri.

Captaincy

The truth is, by 2010, he had taken on such a senior position inside the facet that when Sergio Parisse was dominated out of the Championship with damage, Ghiraldini was the logical option to step in.

It was a job that he had already taken on twice earlier than, in a tour match in South Africa in 2008 and at residence in Samoa the next yr.

Main your group within the Six Nations brings one other degree of scrutiny nonetheless, and Ghiraldini did so with aplomb because the Azzurri beat Scotland a fortnight after falling to a slender 17-12 loss at residence to England.

Parisse’s return noticed Ghiraldini return to lieutenant standing though he led the group once more 4 instances in 2015, earlier than additional captaincy probabilities in 2018 and 2019.

Whereas serving beneath Parisse, Ghiraldini performed his half in a number of the nice moments of Italian rugby historical past – the 2 momentous wins over France in 2011 and 2013, when in addition they received the perfect of Eire.

Bittersweet farewell

By 2019, Ghiraldini had hit the ultimate straight of his profession with a World Cup in Japan set to be the proper swansong.

Sadly, the 2019 Guinness Six Nations completed in essentially the most heart-breaking style, Ghiraldini struggling a critical knee damage in a battling defeat to France.

A torn ACL normally means a minimal of 9 months out, leaving Ghiraldini in a race in opposition to time to make the World Cup with even essentially the most optimistic timelines making that look unrealistic.

Leonardo Ghiraldini

Ghiraldini comforted by Toulouse teammate Antoine Dupont after struggling a knee damage in 2019. ©Inpho

And but, he gained that battle, securing a spot within the squad. A ultimate group match in opposition to New Zealand was as a consequence of be the proper solution to bow out, however Hurricane Hagibis had different concepts, with the match canceled as a result of climate situations.

That felt like an unfair solution to bow out for one of many greats of Italian rugby, however Ghiraldini was not carried out but, coming again to play for the group for one ultimate season in 2020 beneath Franco Smith.

He performed thrice within the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup, together with his ultimate look coming in Llanelli in opposition to Wales.

Upon retirement from worldwide rugby the next January, Ghiraldini mentioned: “I’ve all the time given my all for the blue jersey, on and off the pitch.

“I am conscious that it isn’t a given to play for Italy, however doing every part I might to earn that proper. Each call-up to the nationwide group, I thought of a singular and special day, having fun with it with all of the attainable vitality, ardour and respect as a result of you possibly can by no means take these moments with no consideration.”

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