Italy scrum-half Sara Barattin will join an elite club on Sunday when she becomes the first Italian woman to win a century of test caps.
Barattin, who marked her 99th Azzurre appearance with a try against Scotland on Monday, will become only the eighth woman in history to reach the landmark when she runs out against Ireland in the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier.
Of the previous seven female centurions, five are English, one is Scottish and one is Welsh, meaning the 35-year-old will also be the first woman from outside of the UK to win 100 caps.
Scrum-half Barattin made her debut as a replacement against Germany in April, 2005, scoring a try in the process, and has been a near-constant presence in the team ever since.
Italy have grown into a competitive force on the Women’s Six Nations over those 16 years, and coach Andrea Di Giandomenico believes Barattin’s achievement is representative of the team’s own journey.
“She's the first player in Italy [to win 100 caps], I hope she's not the last. I think it's a mirror from all those years when we fought against tradition,” Di Giandomenico told World Rugby.
“When I started (as coach) and Sara stayed in the squad, we'd never beaten France. OK, now we’ve done that (three times).
“So Sara, at the moment, I think represents all the Italian team. It's the journey, it’s the good and bad of the journey we did together.
“Of course, for me she's a great player in Italy, the history from Sara in 15s and sevens is a clear example for all the young players.
“She has leadership, at the moment she's not captain anymore, but [she has] big leadership in the squad always.
“On the rugby pitch, when you see someone smile, you know Sara Barattin is on the pitch. This is the best for me.”
‘Fundamental they enjoy the game’
Barattin’s continued importance to the Azzurre was highlighted last Monday, when she scored her side’s third try against Scotland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Ilaria Arrighetti played a pivotal role in that score, before later adding a try of her own, and the flanker is in line to reach a milestone on Sunday too, as she wins her 50th cap.
Arrighetti and Barattin are part of an experienced core of the Italy team that has grown together under Di Giandomenico and shares a bond on and off the pitch that could prove pivotal during the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier.
“It's fundamental that they enjoy the game. You see, in the past we built this,” Di Giandomenico said.
“We built up this link [between] the players over many years. I think when you share the philosophy of rugby, of training and the players understand this in depth afterwards on the pitch, you can see where you can have this connection.
“It's important because it is not a skill, it's not an activity, it's not a drill. It's something deeper, you can feel the game.
“If all the squad feel the same game, you can see this connection.”