Italy’s selection points to lack of depth for Jacques Brunel

Josh Furno sounds positive note ahead of Six Nations opener in Rome

Gerry Thornley and Gavin Cummiskey preview Ireland's opening Six Nations game in Italy. Ireland will be looking to kick off their title defense with a win. Video: Daniel O'Connor

 

Italy’s selection to face Ireland is probably as much to do with their lack of depth as it is to do with the form of Jacques Brunel’s players. With just a few changes from the November series, Brunel, in his final season as coach to the Italians, has learned that make do is the operative phrase when picking his side.

Quintin Geldenhuys is not available for Saturday, so Zebre lock George Biagi has been included in the starting team alongside Treviso flanker Francesco Minto, who comes in for injured flanker Samuela Vunisa.

But in Rome for the first game there is always optimism and the Italian pack led by number eight and captain Sergio Parisse has built up a reputation that demands respect from the other nations.

Italy also knows what it takes to beat Ireland on home soil because they won 22-15 against them in 2013.

Simon Easterby, the Irish forwards coach and no stranger to life in the engine room, was cautiously optimistic this week and although Italy finished the 2014 Six Nations in last place after losing all of their games, he knows how effective their pack can be.

The first game at home in Stadio Olimpico is also an issue. Although both of their Pro 12 teams, Zebre and Treviso, are in freefall the Italians will be looking for momentum, a first win to launch their campaign.

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

Second Captains

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

The summer tour and autumn series, though, wasn’t much of an indication things have turned around. Italy lost to Japan, Fiji and Samoa. They beat Samoa in an autumn international but closed out the year with defeats to Argentina and South Africa.

The experienced lock Marco Bortolami is also out through injury while Brunel has chosen to go with New Zealand Kelly Haimona at outhalf. Hopes there are that they have finally found a pivot that can control the game and make intelligent calls on a consistent basis. It has been one of their Achilles heels for some time.

Their scrum, once a major weapon, is no longer as potent. While Martin Castrogiovanni remains an inspirational figure along with Parisse, they will miss seasoned prop, Andrea Lo Cicero, who made a tearful farewell on the day they beat Ireland.

But Brunel’s men are desperate to rediscover their winning touch and the 25-year-old Australian-born Furno believes they can deliver right from the start.

“I believe we can do well against Ireland,” added Furno. “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.”

“The experience in the Premiership with the Falcons has been really stimulating,” he added.

“We’ve had ups and downs because those that joined the team needed time to adapt. Now we are getting the results we want. The team is doing well and we have reached the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

“I hope I can do well with Italy and help the team succeed. I’m really enthusiastic and I hope I can deliver in every game to remain in the team.”

ITALY (v Ireland): A Masi (Wasps); L Sarto (Zebre), M Campagnaro (Treviso), L Morisi (Treviso), L McLean (Sale); K Haimona (Zebre), E Gori (Treviso); M Aguero (Zebre), L Ghiraldini (Leicester), M Castrogiovanni (Toulon); J Furno (Newcastle), G Biagi (Zebre); A Zanni (Treviso), F Minto (Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Francais).

Replacements: A Manici (Zebre), A De Marchi (Sale Sharks), D Chistolini (Zebre), M Fuser (Treviso), M Barbini (Treviso), G Palazzani (Zebre),T Allan (Perpignan), G Venditti (Zebre).

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