Brunel: Wales are best team in Six Nations
March 9, 2012
Jacques Brunel has rubbished suggestions Sergio Parisse is injured © Getty Images
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has highlighted the enormity of the task facing his charges when they come face to face with Grand Slam hopefuls Wales on Saturday.
Brunel has acclaimed Wales as "the strongest team in the tournament". And despite the Azzurri boss making seven changes following a 42-10 defeat against Ireland last time out, Italy will arrive at the Millennium Stadium as rank outsiders.
Six previous Cardiff visits have produced an average scoreline of 39-14 in Wales' favour, and a similar outcome is widely anticipated this time around. "Wales are the strongest team in the tournament," Brunel said. "They have a lot of quality. They reached the World Cup semi-finals and could have gone further than that.
"They have rhythm, they are accustomed to playing together and they possess so many great players. It will be an interesting challenge for us, especially for our defence, which needs to be better than it was in Dublin."
Brunel's most notable switch sees the return of goal-kicking wing Mirco Bergamasco, who has recovered from a shoulder injury that put his Test career in cold storage after the World Cup. Bergamasco booted the winning penalty when Italy beat France last season, although Brunel has yet to decide if he will be given that responsibility or hand it to recalled fly-half Kristopher Burton.
"Mirco Bergamasco is well, he is fit and has recovered well from his shoulder operation," added Brunel, who also dismissed any fears about skipper Sergio Parisse's fitness. "Parisse is fine - the problem with his hand is resolved.
"He will play with a protection to his thumb, but he has worked well in training, including the contact sessions."
For his part, Parisse accepts that Italy are up against it, and he even doubts whether the Azzurri can threaten a shock result this weekend. "We beat Wales in 2007 in Rome, but at this moment I can't say that we really can beat Wales because they are playing fantastic rugby," Parisse told the BBC's Sport Wales programme. "Going to Cardiff, to the Millennium Stadium, against this team is probably something impossible for us.
"Against Ireland we produced a good 40 minutes, but we were embarrassed in the second-half. Every time we go on the field we go out to win because we believe that we have the possibility to do it.
"But for sure, we must play the perfect match. Everyone must play his best match of this year to beat Wales. For me, probably, they are the best team at this moment in the competition. I think they respect us as a team, and they know probably for sure we are not the best team in this competition.
"But if they don't take the match seriously, we can put them under pressure."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies