RugbyU: Parisse, Castrogiovanni play down 100-cap landmark

Italy captain Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni have brushed aside the importance of reaching career milestones as they prepare to pick up their 100th caps against Fiji on Saturday.

But while their focus on helping restore some Italian belief, following a 50-20 mauling by Australia last week, is noble, their respective landmarks won't be lost on long-time fans of the Azzurri.

Since making their debuts together against the All Blacks in 2002, Parisse and Castrogiovanni have unquestionably played key roles leading Italy into battle against more experienced and supposedly better-equipped sides.

Remarkably, the pair have shared a similar path on their way to the 100-cap landmark.

Both were born in Argentina, but while Castrogiovanni appeared for his native country prior to stepping up to senior level, there was little doubt who Parisse would play for.

He grew up in La Plata but in an Italian household where the lingua franca was Italian. Parisse's father, Sergio, was a former player with L'Aquila before moving to Argentina in 1970 to continue his career as an Alitalia airline pilot.

Parisse went on to sign for Italian top flight club Treviso in 2001 and his sense of positioning and overall ability led to his first cap for Italy soon after under former coach John Kirwan.

On the same day, June 8, 2002, Castrogiovanni, who in 2001 had also crossed continents to join rival Italian side Calvisano, made his debut against the All Blacks.

New Zealand's 64-10 win in Hamilton meant it was a baptism of fire for both debutants, but for Parisse it was unforgettable.

"It's still the best memory I have," Parisse told reporters on Friday. "I was 18 years old and until only a few months before then I was watching New Zealand on television.

"Suddenly, I was up there playing against them."

Parisse's talents led him to French giants Stade Francais in 2005 -- a move that make the big No.8 a more well-rounded player.

A strong showing at the 2007 World Cup prompted rumours of a switch to Leicester Tigers, where the taciturn Castrogiovanni had signed a year earlier to begin a seven-year spell that would help him forge a cult status at the club.

Despite missing out, following his nomination for the IRB Player of the year award early in his career, Parisse became a pivotal player for Italy in the recently-expanded Six Nations.

Italy may yet be the unfinished article in the eyes of many rugby aficionados around the world but the talents of Parisse and Castrogiovanni have carried the Azzurri past more than a few heavyweights in recent times, including France and Ireland in last season's Six Nations.

Castrogiovanni's focus on Saturday's test against Fiji means he refused to give any significance to his 100th cap, turning down requests for interviews on Friday.

In similar fashion, Parisse was quick to dispel the importance of reaching the landmark, adding: "Of course I'm proud to have come this far with Italy, but really it is of secondary importance.

"Our priority right now is to go out and play our best against a very dangerous Fiji side."