Castrogiovanni is ruled out of Rome finale

But Azzurri talk up chance of historic first win over Ireland

Italy’s head coach Jacques Brunel.

Italy’s head coach Jacques Brunel.


As anticipated, Jacques Brunel has decided not to risk Italy ’s iconic and talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni or flanker Robert Barbieri, although he has restored his other veteran prop, 36-year-old Andrea Lo Cicero, who is today expected to confirm his retirement from playing at the end of the season. But their injury toll is nothing akin to their visitors, and the trio of changes up front do not noticeably weaken their hand.

Castrogiovanni, whose mooted move from Leicester Tigers to Toulon has seemingly fallen through, was forced off in the first half at Twickenham due to a strained quadriceps, and so his replacement, Treviso ’s Lorenzo Cittadini, starts with Lo Cicero reclaiming the loosehead slot from Alberto De Marchi. Simone Favaro comes in for Robert Barbieri (hip) while a more potent backline these days has been retained.

“Castro was not fit. We lose a player of great experience but Cittadini showed at Twickenham that he can play at this level, so it’s not a concern for us,” said Brunel. “To manage this lack of top players demonstrates that we are growing.”

[CROSSHEAD]Second-half impact
[/CROSSHEAD]As was the case at Twickenham, Brunel strongly hinted that he will bring Antonio Pavanello and France co Minto in the secondrow and backrow for second-half impact.

Brunel only has experience of the most recent of Italy’s 17 successive defeats against Ireland and hence stressed that he did not know the history of the fixture beyond that.

“But I remember last year in Dublin we managed the first half-hour very well and we stayed in the game but then in a few minutes before and after half-time they scored two tries and they won the game as we lost our concentration.

“I’ve seen Ireland score 30 points, 30 points,” he emphasised, “against the Welsh practically in the first half and I also fear especially their defence because England and Scotland didn’t score a single try against them, and France succeeded only five minutes from time through a quick penalty. So this is a measure of the strength of the Irish team.

“They have very few weaknesses and the defence is well structured, and I think this is a very difficult game for us. I fear especially their aggressiveness at the breakdown, and also their choke tackles that allow them to win a lot of turnovers. The key of the game is there. If we win the breakdown, we will win the game.”

The Italians announced their line-up after a training session at the impressive Centro di Preparazione Olimpico in Acquacetosa.

Sporting celebrities mix freely, and amongst those socialising with the squad at lunchtime was Carolo Molfetta, who won gold in tzekwondo at the London Olympics and has coached Castrogiovanni and Gonzalo Canale in that discipline.

The Azzurri are seeking a first victory over Ireland in the Six Nations. Favaro also expressed their determination to end the championship on a positive note.

“We’ve never beaten Ireland in this squad so there is a lot of motivation,” admitted Cittadini. “To do it at home, in the last game of the Six Nations in front of our great fans, it’s very important. Against England we gained in confidence, we were able to put something in place, but we must not forget we lost, even if the performance was satisfactory. Now we have a new battle.”