Cult hero Castrogiovanni left his mark

Date published: December 20 2016

Characters in rugby don’t come bigger than Martin Castrogiovanni, which explains why his retirement from the sport announced over the week was met with a long line of tributes, after all those years of service at club and Test level.

Well, when he wasn’t in Las Vegas on the weekend of a European Cup semi-final.

Or missing a Six Nations game due to recovering with 14 stitches to his nose from playing with his dog. Not to forget leaving Leicester Tigers after seven illustrious years and then a few months later calling his former director of rugby Richard Cockerill a “c***”, for which he was banned for four matches and fined.

Copy and paste that track record under the names of certain players who have been derided for their off-field activities over the years, and they would be slaughtered by media and fans alike.

Not Castro though. He has always been loved, his flowing hair and physique earning cult status, pulling back the curtain with his forthright opinions. He has been in many ways a throwback player to another era, and an entertaining one at that.

Yet for as much as everyone bought into Castrogiovanni’s personality he deserves to be remembered as an outstanding prop at his peak.

Only Gethin Jenkins has more Tests caps at the position than the Italian’s 119, and only the great Sergio Parisse holds more caps for Italy.

Having only just signed for Leicester back in 2007 he was named Premiership Player of the Season, and Leicester’s staple of front row forwards during those years when they clinched four Premiership titles in seven years were remarkably talented, with Castrogiovanni, England prop Dan Cole and Argentina’s Marcos Ayerza.

Whatever comes next for him is unlikely to be conventional.

Castrogiovanni left his teenage basketball years in Argentina behind by deliberately pushing a referee over, defying his mother’s persistence to stop him from playing rugby by leaving Argentina at a young age to play professionally for Calivisano.

The rest really is history, writing himself into Leicester folklore and then winning two European Cups with Toulon.

Returning to Argentina to wind things up by playing in a Sevens tournament solely for players weighing over 100kg has brought his career nicely full circle. A unique farewell for an individual who never worries about how he was perceived.

“I want to thank the Italian Rugby Federation, and above all the Italian rugby fans and fans of the national team for the extraordinary affection they have always shown me,” Castrogiovanni said back in March after his final Test.

“I will never forget the children’s enthusiasm in meetings with the players, and it is worth infinitely more than the trophies that are gathering dust in my house.

“I always tried to be myself, for better or for worse, and I hope that the Italian audience understood and appreciated it.

“I would like to thank all the Italian rugby players, one by one, for making me feel one of them since the day I arrived in Italy 15 years ago.”

Enjoy your retirement, Castro. Never change.

by Ben Coles