Italy eye return to top form
February 21, 2013
Martin Castrogiovanni will lead Italy for the third time at the Stadio Olimpico © PA Photos
Italy will be banking on home comforts when they tackle Wales at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.
Head to Head
The Azzurri stunned France at the Stadio Olimpico in their opening Six Nations clash but their form deserted them at Murrayfield in their latest outing against Scotland. However, their joy at returning to the Italian capital will have been tempered by the ban handed to captain Sergio Parisse earlier this week who is set to miss the remainder of the Six Nations for abusing a referee while on domestic duty for Stade Francais.
The news of Parisse's suspension will have been welcomed by Wales who are looking to continue their revival having snapped an eight-game losing streak with victory over France in Paris earlier this month. But they are unlikely to be taking their rivals lightly having twice been on the wrong end of a shock result in Rome in 2003 and 2007.
Both of these sides are still in the hunt for the Six Nations title although both will be well aware that victory in this game is a necessity if they are to remain in the mix beyond this weekend.
Italy - Player to Watch: Manoa Vosawai is promoted from outside the matchday squad to fill the void at No.8 left by Sergio Parisse. They are sizeable boots to fill - is the Fijian-born forward up to the task?
Italy - Team News: Prop Martin Castrogiovanni will lead his country for the third time in the absence of usual skipper Sergio Parisse. Fly-half Luciano Orquera and scrum-half Tobias Botes are dropped to the bench in the wake of the 34-10 defeat to Scotland in their last outing with Kristopher Burton and Edoardo Gori handed the chance to impress. There is also a change in the second row with Antonio Pavanello preferred to Quintin Geldenhuys, who is also named among the replacements.
Wales - Player to Watch: George North struck with the all-important try against France - his first try in five Tests. Will he add to that tally on his first Test appearance in Rome?
Wales - Team News: Wales have opted to name the same XV that beat France in their last outing but have drafted in two fresh faces on the bench. Sam Warburton, who missed the win against Les Bleus due to a shoulder injury, will hope to make an impact from the replacements while second-row Alun Wyn Jones is also given the nod. Warburton comes into the 23-man squad in place of Aaron Shingler while Jones replaces Lou Reed.
Key Battle: Two formidable packs will go head-to-head at scrum time with the front rows in particular boasting talent and experience in equal measure. Fired up by a capacity home crowd and the captaincy, Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni is sure to be central to proceedings with Wales' Gethin Jenkins hoping to throw a spanner in the Azzurri works.
Trivia: Sergio Parisse has only missed seven Six Nations matches for Italy since he made his Six Nations debut in 2004. Italy have only managed one win in the Six Nations without Parisse, which was in 2010, when the Azzurri beat Scotland 16-12 in Rome. Italy's Six Nations success rate with Parisse in the team is 19% and drops to 14% without him.
Stats: Italy field a more experienced starting XV, with a total of 632 caps between them, compared to Wales' 590.
Betting: Fancy Wales' George North to continue where he left off in Paris with a try? Bet365 have him at 7/1 to score the first or the last try. Or how about Wales to punish a Parisse-less Italy by a margin of 16-20 points? Bet365 will also pay 7/1.
"I saw the match (of Stade Francais) and right away I thought to myself - this is a disaster"
"You can clearly hear him on the ref's mic coming out with profanities in the ref's earshot about what damage he was going to do to one of our players if he did the same thing again."
Prediction: Italy are set to feel the loss of their captain and talisman Sergio Parisse with a Wales side that have recently rediscovered how to win poised to take the latest step in their recovery.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game
Amy Perrett, the Australian referee who whistled the Women's Rugby World Cup final after handling only six Tests, talks to Jamie Lyall