With his iconic curly hair and as Italy’s third most-capped player of all time, there are few bigger names in Azzurri rugby than Mauro Bergamasco.
And, following in the footsteps of former Italy skipper Marco Bortolami and veteran front rowers Fabio Ongaro and Salvatore Perugini, in returning from long spells abroad, Bergamasco insists he is relishing the chance to ply his trade back in his homeland after joining RaboDirect PRO12 side Aironi.
The openside flanker had been without a club since the World Cup after shoddy treatment from his club of eight years Stade Français but has been keeping himself fit for a rapid return to action.
And while easing into retirement could seem the easy option for the 32-year-old, Bergamasco insists nothing could be further from his thoughts.
“My contract at Stade Français finished before the World Cup, but a few of us only found out very late on that we wouldn’t be having them renewed,” said Bergamasco, who could make his debut for Aironi in the RaboDirect PRO12 derby clashes with Treviso.
“That meant that I had to spend more than a month without a club and although I kept fit, it is very different to training with a squad.
“I had a few offers when I knew I wouldn’t be staying in Paris, but all of them wanted me to join the club early and miss the World Cup.
“There was no way I was going to miss the chance to go to the World Cup with Italy.
“Mentally I am ready to start playing, but I need to be physically fit as well.
“When I make my debut it will be my first game for an Italian club for eight years, and I played for Treviso for three years, so that will make it even more special.”
Aironi have made a shaky start to their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign with a single victory over Edinburgh to show for the first ten matches of the season.
But Bergamasco is adamant they are more than capable of turning their form around and upsetting the odds.
“I wouldn’t have come here if we didn’t think we could go and pick up some more wins,” added Bergamasco, whose brother Mirco is still playing in Paris for Racing-Métro.
“It’s gone really well since I got here and we know we have a good enough squad and that we can improve on what has gone so far.
“I just can’t wait to get out there and get involved.”