LONDON, 12 Oct – Mauro Bergamasco waved farewell to professional rugby after Italy’s 32-22 win against Romania on Sunday, urging the Italian Rugby Federation to begin their planning for Japan 2019 now. 

Italy again missed out on the quarter-finals, but third place in Pool D at least ensures they qualify for the next Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Bergamasco (pictured above, after the Romania game) equalled the record with his fifth World Cup appearance, but the closest he and Italy have come to reaching the knockout stages was at France 2007, when their hopes were ended with an 18-16 defeat by Scotland in their final pool match.

After that game, the flanker stood in the middle of the team huddle and implored his players to remember the result and avoid future disappointments.

“They have to plan, that is the main thing,” he said. “Plan and organise a strategy for the next four years. They need to have an objective, but you also need a strategy to help you reach the World Cup in the best condition possible, and then you can reach your goals.”

When Bergamasco came off the bench in Italy’s 23-18 win over Canada at Elland Road, he became only the second player, alongside Samoa’s Brian Lima, to appear in five Rugby World Cups. 

Spirits lifted

In total, the 36-year-old has played 106 tests since his debut against the Netherlands, in a qualifying tournament for Rugby World Cup 1999, and scored 15 tries. 

Bergamasco will take time to decide what he wants to do, though he admits that he is not short of offers. He holds a Level 2 coaching qualification, so the idea of him leading the Azzurri at a future World Cup is not as outrageous as it immediately seems, even if he admits he would need time to build up his coaching experience.

“I’m happy, even though we didn’t meet the high standards we wanted,” he said. “This win is, of course, good as we qualified for the next World Cup, but also to lift spirits and leave us with a smile on our faces. We feel a bit empty now, but we will spend the evening together - my last as a player - and have one last drink with the squad.

“I need work because I have to eat. I will try different things over the next few years and then decide what I want to do.”

Bergamasco’s final international came against Ireland in London, as he made his debut in England, albeit further north in Huddersfield. 

However, despite being one of Europe’s premier flankers in the early part of the century, he never played for an English club. He spent eight years with Stade Francais, winning two French Top 14 titles with the Parisians before he returned to Italy, first with Aironi and then Zebre.

RNS ji/ns/mr