Rugby-Talisman Parisse looking to upset the odds for Italy

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By Toby Davis LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Sergio Parisse is a true warrior with some exquisite ability, yet his talismanic influence on Italy is sometimes most apparent when he is not in the team. When shorn of their captain's leadership, Italy carry a fraction of the threat they pose when the menacing Parisse is marshalling their ranks. Just ask the Wales players who made the most of the number eight's absence in their final Six Nations game this year to score 47 second-half points and complete a walloping 61-20 victory. Parisse, like many recent Italy internationals, was born in Argentina, but, with both his parents being Italian, he is different to those who made the decision to play for the Azzurri for merely economic or professional reasons. Parisse's parents moved to South America in the 1970s, but Italy was never far from the thoughts of their son who visited every year before joining Treviso in 2001. He made his Italy debut at 18 in a 64-10 defeat to New Zealand in 2002 and headed to Paris to join Stade Francais in 2005. He has gone on to become one of the greatest number eights of modern rugby. The first Italian to be nominated for the IRB's International Player of the Year in 2008, he is Italy's record caps holder, having made his 112th appearance against France in this year's Six Nations. According to Italy's former coach Nick Mallett, who led them in four Six Nations campaigns and at the 2011 World Cup, Parisse is a permanent, positive influence, someone "as good as any other top rugby player in the world". With his only apparent weakness being that "he can lose it a little bit on the field with the referee." That, Mallett says, comes from a belief that officials sometimes come into games with a pre-determined idea that perennial underdogs Italy should not win. Drawn in Pool D at this year's World Cup alongside France and Ireland, Parisse and his Italy team mates will again be nobody's favourites to reach the knockout stages. At 31 years old, Parisse could be set for his last World Cup and will no doubt want to end this stage of his career on a high. Having failed to get past the pool stage at his last two tournaments, there is ample incentive for him to go one better. (Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)