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Rugby: Italy field inexperienced backline against Wales

Winger Esposito to make debut in Six Nations opener

30 January, 17:18
Rugby: Italy field inexperienced backline against Wales (ANSA) - Rome, January 30 - Italy coach Jacques Brunel has boldly named an inexperienced young backline in his starting XI for Saturday's Six Nations opener against reigning champions Wales in Cardiff.

The team features debutant winger Angelo Esposito, while fellow wing Leonardo Sarto, flyhalf Tommaso Allan and outside centre Michele Campagnaro have only seven caps between them.

Allan and Campagnaro both made their debuts in the Azzurri's autumn test series, while Sarto picked up the first of his two caps in a defeat against Scotland in June.

The backline is not totally devoid of experience, as it also features regulars such as fullback Luke Mclean, inside centre Alberto Sgarbi and scrumhalf Edoardo Gori.

But to field so many green backs together against a Wales side that includes 13 players who took part in last year's British and Irish Lions test series in Australia is quite a risk.

The pack, on the other hand, boasts a wealth of experience.

Indeed, the forwards have a combined total 587 caps, with inspirational number eight Sergio Parisse set to make his 102nd appearance and his predecessor as captain, lock Marco Bortolami, reaching the 100 mark. Brunel acknowledged that there is a good chance his side will lose the match, but said he was most concerned about seeing progress as he tries to find the right blend of youth and experience for the 2015 World Cup. "The (recent) results say that Wales are the strongest team in Europe, but we think we have a team that can provide an interesting response," the Frenchman told a press conference Thursday. "They have lots of potential, but we hope to oppose them well throughout the match.

"Obviously the result counts and a victory would be wonderful. But the performance on the field is what we're interested in". The Azzurri are seeking to equal or better last year's Six Nations campaign, when they matched their best-ever showing by beating Ireland and France at home to finish with two wins.

But Italy seemed to take steps back in their test series in June and November, when they showed defensive frailty, in part due to the blooding of some players new to this level. Italy's hopes for the 2014 Six Nations have also 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, centre Gonzalo Canale and lock Marco Fuser for the first two matches.

"We made the selections on the basis of the physical condition of the squad," said Brunel.

"The players in the best shape, those who had fewer problems at the training camp, will take the field.

"We want to give these young guys a chance. It'll be the matches that follow that will say whether we've made a mistake or not. I hope it's a positive signal for the whole (Italian rugby) movement". After facing Wales, Italy will visit France for their second Six Nations match next 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.

Italy team to take on Wales: 15 Luke Mclean (Benetton Treviso, 52 Caps), 14 Angelo Esposito (Benetton Treviso), 13 Michele Campagnaro (Benetton Treviso, 2 Caps), 12 Alberto Sgarbi (Benetton Treviso, 27 Caps), 11 Leonardo Sarto (Zebre, 2 Caps), 10 Tommaso Allan (Perpignan, 3 Caps), 9 Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso, 29 Caps); 8 Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, 101 Caps, captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre, 95 Caps), 6 Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso, 80 Caps), 5 Marco Bortolami (Zebre, 99 Caps), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre, 41 Caps), 3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon, 101 Caps), 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso, 59 Caps), 1 Michele Rizzo (Benetton Treviso, 11 Caps). Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon (Zebre, 15 Caps), 17 Alberto De Marchi (Benetton Treviso, 12 Caps), 18 Lorenzo Cittadini (Benetton Treviso, 27 Caps), 19 Joshua Furno (Biarritz Olympique, 13 Caps), 20 Francesco Minto (Benetton Treviso, 7 Caps), 21 Tobias Botes (Benetton Treviso, 19 Caps), 22 Luciano Orquera (Zebre, 37 Caps), 23 Tommaso Iannone (Zebre, 6 Caps).