Italy’s Sergio Parisse aware of the size of Ireland challenge

‘Personally I think Ireland are better than Wales, so it’s going to be extremely difficult’

Sergio Parisse believes Ireland will offer Italy a sterner challenge than Wales. Photograph: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

Sergio Parisse believes Ireland will offer Italy a sterner challenge than Wales. Photograph: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

 

Sergio Parisse admits Italy will need another “miracle” victory rivalling November’s South Africa triumph to topple Ireland in Rome on Saturday.

Italy edged out the Springboks 20-18 in the autumn, with new boss Conor O’Shea registering a landmark result to kick-start his reign with the Azzurri.

The Italians slumped to a 33-7 home loss to Wales to open their Six Nations campaign last weekend, however, and now Parisse expects an even tougher challenge from Ireland.

Parisse has backed former Ireland full-back O’Shea to transform Italy’s Pro12 outfits to boost the Azzurri’s long-term development — but admitted for now they must scavenge off every possible scrap.

“Beating South Africa with the system we have in the country at the moment was a miracle, but it was possible because of the commitment of the players and the staff who believe in us,” said Parisse.

“Personally I think Ireland are better than Wales, so it’s going to be extremely difficult tomorrow.

“Conor’s most important challenge is to change our mentality.

“Zebre and Treviso play in a very negative environment, losing often.

“The attitude changes when you have criticism every week and no wins. It’s human nature that you start believing you’re not good enough.

“It’s difficult to expect a winning mentality from those players but Conor is so positive.

“He has put in place an extremely professional environment with the national team, and we must try to pass this system onto Zebre and Treviso. It’s not easy, but that’s the point.

“Ireland are the only team in the Six Nations which is extremely adaptable depending on the opponent.

Joe Schmidt is such a clever coach and always finding new ways to establish good attacking platforms depending on the opponent, especially from first, second and third phase.

“We know Ireland will want to keep the ball in play and try to score more than four tries. We know the size of the challenge.”

Parisse spent part of Italy’s captain’s run on Friday listening to the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction”.

The Azzurri’s finest-ever player has spent his entire Test career chasing that elusive emotion, but now harbours new hope that O’Shea can help Italy realise the promise that has lied so latent for so long.

Parisse’s win record stands at 27 per cent for his 122 caps, as opposed to 57 per cent for his Ireland counterpart Rory Best from his 101 Test appearances.

At the age of 33 it would be all too easy for Parisse to start winding down, but the Stade Francais star has other ideas.

Parisse insisted he is not about to seek retirement just when he finally considers Italy boast a coach worthy of his own superlative talents.

“I find in Conor a coach who has the same vision as me,” said Parisse. “And it’s an honour for me to work with him.

“When he arrived in Italy it was very good news from my personal point of view.

“I don’t know how long I will keep playing, maybe one, two, three years.

“While I’m fit and my performances are good and I’m mentally fresh though, I definitely want to keep playing.

“Physically I’m feeling good but you never know how long it will be.

“But as soon as I’m not fit enough and my performance is poor, I think I’ll automatically be out of the team.”

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