Italian rugby icon Mauro Bergamasco’s international career is about to go full circle.
The back-row forward will hang up his boots at the end of Rugby World Cup 2015, and England, where it all started, he says, is as good a place as any to call it a day.
“The game becomes harder, faster, and physically more challenging, you get hurt, but the important thing is to have fun so it can’t change from being a positive experience,” he told World Rugby TV.
“It has been a long time since 1998 and today, not only has rugby profoundly changed, but so has my way of playing. Along with my mind-set and my body.
“I would be very happy to finish the cycle perfectly, with it all beginning in England and finishing in England too.”
Huddersfield was the venue for the 36-year-old’s first cap, the Padova-born player scoring twice as Italy comfortably saw off the Netherlands in an RWC 1999 qualifier.
“I was playing my club rugby for Petrarca Padova when I was first selected for Italy back in 1998. I’d only played a few games of senior rugby at that time, in the domestic competition," he explained.
“It all happened very quickly for me. To be a part of the international team, through the eyes of someone who was still trying to work out what to do, obviously everything looked amazing to me
“But I had to improve my physical strength in order to cope with the opposition and support my teammates, who were already more mature.”
Long before Namibian captain Burger arrived on the world scene, Bergamasco stood apart from his peers with his curly, unkempt locks and fearless back-row play.
Once compared to Jonah Lomu by former Italy coach John Kirwan, Bergamasco’s versatility has seen him play on the wing and he even had one ill-fated run out at scrum-half, against England in 2009.
As he prepares to match Brian Lima’s feat of playing in five Rugby World Cups, Bergamasco has received the highest praise from fellow centurion and teammate Martin Castrogiovanni.
“I think that Mauro is one of the recognisable faces of the national team, not only for the many years he’s spent here, but also for what he gives on the field,” said the prop, who made his international debut four years after Bergamasco yet has won nine more caps.
“He never complained, he always carried on, and I think this is an example for any young man as well as myself. At my age (33) he’s an example because Mauro never gave up even at difficult times, when he was either left out or criticised for his age. When it came to his performance, he always did great in games.”
Bergamasco says his favourite moment was when his younger brother, utility back Mirco, became the third member of the family to represent Italy when he debuted in Paris in 2002. Their father, Arturo, played four times on the flank in the 1970s.
Each Rugby World Cup experience has left a profound impression on him, too, but for differing reasons.
“In 2003 the experience was different (to 1999), because I was coming into it after four years in a higher league. There the level required was definitely higher, so I was forced to develop my role and my game," he explained.
“2007 was a special year for me; it was one of the most challenging parts of my career. It was probably the World Cup in which I played the most, playing in almost all the games. I had fun, and I became aware of my capabilities, technically, tactically and physically.”
Bergamasco, who is on the bench for Italy's match with Scotland in Edinburgh today, added: “I've been lucky enough to play for my country for 17 years. You can call me a happy man for sure as I've had many great moments in my sporting life.
“Winning two Top 14s with Stade Français, living many great moments while wearing the Azzurri jersey, sharing most of them with my brother Mirco ... all these experiences make me a lucky person, on and off the field.”