Italy Name Side To Face Ireland In Six Nations Opener

France v Italy - RBS Six Nations

Italy have named an experienced side to kick off their Six Nations campaign against Ireland in Rome on Saturday.

The team, led by Sergio Parisse, boasts a total of 660 caps and shows only two changes from the line-up that ended the autumn campaign with a 22-6 defeat at the hands of South Africa.

George Fabio Biagi comes into the second row alongside Josh Furno, replacing the injured Quintin Geldenhuys, while Francesco Minto replaces Samuela Vunisa at openside flanker.

That means the half-back partnership between Kelly Haimona and Edoardo Gori remains in place after an impressive end to last year when the Azzurri beat Samoa and suffered a narrow defeat against Argentina.

Tough challenge

Coach Jacques Brunel said: “It is not the easiest challenge. Ireland are the tournament favourites, but two years ago we beat them and we hope to have the right attitude this time. And this is the start of a tournament, so anything can happen.

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“Two years ago we dominated the game, last year it was impossible to avoid their domination when all the statistics, like possession and tackles, were so negative. Something has to change and we will try to do so.”

Newcastle lock Josh Furno, who will line up alongside the inexperienced Biagi, says the team is determined to avoid a repeat of last year, when they lost all five of their games.

Fired up

“We are really impatient to start,” Furno said. “The Six Nations is the most important event in our season and we can’t wait to get started.

“We have been waiting a whole year for the Six Nations and we are so determined to make amends for last year’s tournament.

“I believe we can do well against Ireland. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We have worked hard and are really fired up. Ireland are a difficult opponent but we have a good team too.

“In the autumn Tests, besides the game against South Africa, we always had 90 per cent of possession.”

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi; 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Luke McLean; 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori; 1 Matias Aguero, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni; 4 Josh Furno, 5 George Fabio Biagi; 6 Alessandro Zanni, 7 Francesco Minto, 8 Sergio Parisse.

Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Robert Barbini, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.

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