Italy captain Sergio Parisse is in line to appear at a fifth Rugby World Cup after he was named in Conor O’Shea’s 44-man training squad for Japan 2019 on Thursday.
Talismanic number eight Parisse made his debut almost 17 years ago and has been an integral member of the Azzurri squads that have competed in each tournament since.
His former team-mate Mauro Bergamasco became the first Italian to achieve that feat when he came off the bench during the 23-18 win over Canada at RWC 2015.
Fellow veteran forwards Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alessandro Zanni have also been named in the initial party, and are in contention to play at a fourth Rugby World Cup.
However, only 10 players selected for the training squad have previous Rugby World Cup experience.
Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi, who has excelled with Benetton this season, made his test debut a decade ago but is yet to appear at rugby's quadrennial global showpiece event.
O’Shea has included the uncapped trio of scrum-half Callum Braley, hooker Enjiel Makelara and prop Marco Riccioni as he plots Italy’s path to a first ever Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Half of O’Shea’s squad has been drawn from Benetton, who made history last month by booking their place in the PRO14 play-offs, becoming the first Italian side to do so.
Incredible sporting experience
The Azzurri will take their first steps towards Japan on 2 June when the squad assembles for a training camp in the northern town of Pergine Valsugana.
Italy have played at all eight Rugby World Cups since the tournament’s inception but they came closest to navigating their pool in their very first appearance in 1987.
Fiji edged them to a quarter-final place on that occasion having scored more tries, and their task looks no less daunting in Japan where they will face New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia and Canada in Pool B.
In all Italy have won just 11 of their 28 Rugby World Cup matches to date.
“The announcement of this team for summer camps has led to the realisation of how close we are to the incredible sporting experience that awaits us in September in Japan, which is a great opportunity to take a new step in our journey that aims to bring Italy back to the top of international rugby,” O’Shea said.
“This group is a mix of young players and veterans, a truly electrifying squad. We have already had to make some difficult choices and even harder ones will have to be made during the summer.
“Playing at a World Cup is every player's dream. Between June and July we will hold four meetings in Pergine Valsugana, the first starting from June 2.”
Italy will play four warm-up matches before heading to Japan, against Ireland, Russia, France and England.