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Rugby: Italy expect tough time against 'generous' Scots

Parisse, Castrogiovanni to set new caps record

20 February, 18:42
Rugby: Italy expect tough time against 'generous' Scots (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 20 - Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned his men that Saturday's match against Scotland may be the toughest of this year's Six Nations, even though the Scots are the easiest opponents on paper.

The encounter between the nations is often a decider of who takes the tournament's booby prize for finishing last, the wooden spoon, and both sides go into Saturday's game at Rome's Stadio Olimpico without a win. The Azzurri produced a courageous performance in a 23-15 defeat in Wales in their opener, but they were thumped 30-10 by France in Paris last time out.

Scotland have suffered big defeats to Ireland and England.

"Even though they don't have the results to show that the other teams in the tournament have, I think Scotland could be the team capable of causing us most trouble," Brunel told a press conference on Thursday.

"They are a team with character, they play generous rugby and they have considerable determination and structure to their play.

"They are strong in defence and at the breakdown, factors that you must not underestimate".

Brunel announced three changes to his starting line-up, but overall his team continues with a mix of youth in the backs and enormous experience in the forwards. Captain Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni will both make their 104th appearance for Italy Saturday, breaking the previous record of 103 caps held by retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero. "These two athletes have gone on a great journey in their international careers and they still have a lot to give," Brunel said.

"They are two extremely important players for this team, real assets for Italian rugby". Two of Brunel's three changes are in the back row.

Blindside flanker Alessandro Zanni, who came on as a replacement in Paris, returns to the starting XV in place of Francesco Minto.

Robert Barbieri takes over from the injured Mauro Bergamasco on the open side.

The other change is in the backs, with wing Angelo Esposito set to pick up his second cap after making his debut against Wales. He replaces Tommaso Iannone.

The Azzurri matched their best-ever Six Nations showing last year when they beat Ireland and France at home to finish with two wins.

But they seemed to take steps back in their test series in June and November, when they showed defensive frailty that resurfaced in Paris two weeks ago.

"As always, we have worked on defence and I think we're improved on last year, even though there are still too many individual errors," said Frenchman Brunel. "We still have to learn how to take control of matches when we can.

"In Wales we conceded too many points early in the game and in France we create opportunities without taking advantage of them.

"But the fact that we created chances is positive and I'm quite happy with our rugby".

Italy lost twice to Scotland last year - 34-10 in Edinburgh in the Six Nations and 30-29 during their June test series in South Africa.

But the Azzurri have a good record against Scotland in Rome, having won the last three home clashes. Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori; 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.

Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.