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Rugby: Italy target England, Scotland clashes

Azzurri have 'lots of ambition' for Six Nations, says Brunel

23 January, 16:49
Rugby: Italy target England, Scotland clashes (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, January 23 - Coach Jacques Brunel said Thursday that Italy have big ambitions for the upcoming Six Nations and are targeting their two home matches, against Scotland and former world champions England.

The Azzurri are seeking to equal or better last year's campaign, when they matched their best-ever showing by beating Ireland and France at home to finish with two wins.

They start out in Wales on February 1 and visit Paris to face France the following week.

Brunel's men then host Scotland in Rome on February 22, travel to Dublin to face Ireland on March 8 and wrap up the tournament against England at home on March 15.

Frenchman Brunel said the aim is to make Rome's Stadio Olimpico a fortress again this year like it was in 2013.

"It's possible that we'll start with two defeats (in Wales and France)," Brunel said when asked if his side risked picking up the tournament's dreaded booby prize, the wooden spoon, for the nation that finishes last.

"It wouldn't be a disaster. It's possible, as we're taking on the side that won the last two tournaments in the first match at a special stadium like the one in Cardiff. "And then we'll have France, who'll want to come back after the disaster of finishing last a year ago," he added at a press conference.

"We want to win the two home games, in particular against the English, who we've never beaten. We'll try to show spirit and strong character away from home too". England are the only Six Nations side Italy have never beaten, but they have pushed them close in Rome on several occasions, especially two years ago when they were unlucky to go down 19-15.

The match with Scotland, on the other hand, is frequently a decider of who gets the wooden spoon.

Italy's hopes have been dented by a long list of injuries, which means Brunel was unable to call up players such as fullback Andrea Masi, winger Giovanbattista Venditti, scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi, flanker Simone Favaro and centre Gonzalo Canale, for the first two matches. Furthermore, lock Marco Fuser had to pull out of the 30-man squad this week with a knee injury, so Francesco Minto was recalled to take his place.

Brunel is sticking to his policy of bringing younger, less experienced players into the squad, even though Italy were disappointing in their test series in November, when he blooded a number of fresh faces.

The Azzurri were thrashed by Australia, edged Fiji and lost to Argentina in those tests.

The squad features two uncapped players, Benetton Treviso winger Angelo Esposito and Zebre fullback Guglielmo Palazzani.

Brunel has also retained several players, like flyhalf Tommaso Allan and centre Michele Campagnaro, who made their international debuts in November.

"We showed a number of shortcomings in the November test matches, especially in defence," said Brunel.

"We have worked to resolve those problems and we hope to get back to playing at the levels we reached in the past". Brunel's players modelled Adidas's new shirts for the national team, featuring the red-white-green tricolour stripes of the Italian flag down the sleeves, at Thursday's press conference.