Preview: Fiji v Italy

Date published: June 6 2014

Italy start their three-Test tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday and have a big point to prove as they are yet to win a Test in 2014.

Italy start their three-Test tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday and have a big point to prove as they are yet to win a Test in 2014.

The Azzurri also face Samoa and Japan during the June internationals and are a desperate side after going through a disastrous Six Nations campaign – in which they lost all their matches.

They are on a six-match losing streak with their last victory being a 37-31 triumph over Fiji in Cremona last year.

That match was an ill-tempered affair which saw six players – of which five were Fijians – receiving yellow cards.

Italy have beaten Fiji five times in their nine previous meetings but are yet to defeat the islanders on their home turf, where energy-sapping heat and fanatical local support give the hosts a major advantage.

Italy's team manager Luigi Torini admitted that the Azzurri's powerful pack will look to dominate Fiji and deny the islanders' back-line attacking opportunities.

“We know this match will be a much harder one, because they want to win at home and we are preparing ourselves for this match,” he said.

“Our forwards are stronger than the Fijians, but the Fijians are very dangerous these days. I hope for an even match and we hope to win.”

For Fiji, this Test will be coach John McKee's first match in charge since the New Zealander was appointed last month with a brief to prepare the team for next year's World Cup after their disappointing campaign at the 2011 tournament.

The Fijians are renowned for running the ball and improvising to score tries from anywhere on the field, qualities that back-line coach Andre Bell said they would look to unleash against the Italians.

“That is our strength and we know that, we have some world class players…(who) we will use to counter the Italians on match day,” he said.

The hosts' attacking game is their strength and Montpellier wing Timoci Nagusa is excited to have a crack at the Azzurri but feels they need to strike a balance if they want to be successful

“We need to do the basics right and play as team,” he told FijiLive.

“Italy are very strong both in attack and defence and we need an effective game-plan to counter them.

“We have a very experienced and capable squad and the boys just need to do their share of work on the field to see us win.

“We have four big matches this month and a win in the first one will surely boost everyone's morale and win give us an extra motivation to do well in the other matches.

“I am ready and raring to play. I would be comfortable in any back-line position. There are lots of players fighting for the same spots so we will just have to wait and see where we are positioned on game day.”

Players to watch:

For Italy: Number eight Manoa Vosawai has big boots to fill as he is standing in for regular skipper Sergio Parisse, who is sidelined through injury. There will be plenty of pressure on Vosawai as he is returning to the country of his birth and will be keen to impress. The Cardiff-bound back-row is a strong ball-carrier, who will be expected to get his team onto the front foot from the base of the scrum.

For Fiji: Outside centre Asaeli Tikoirotuma is a potent attacking force who has the ability to tear any defence to shreds. A two-time Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs Tikoirotuma usually plays on the wing for the Hamilton-based franchise and has pace to burn. If he receives the ball in space, he will be a handful but he also a creative touch and will provide try-scoring opportunities for his team-mates.

Head-to-head: The battle at the breakdown will play a major role in this game's outcome and in Fiji's captain Akapusi Qera and Italy's veteran Mauro Bergamasco we have two superb ball-winners who will give their all to dominate this facet of play.

Previous results:
2013: Italy won 37-31, Cremona
2010: Italy won 24-16, Modena
2006: Fiji won 29-18, Lautoka
2005: Italy won 23-8, Monza
2001: Italy won 66-10, Treviso
2000: Fiji won 43-9, Suva
1999: Fiji won 50-32, L'Aquila
1987: Italy won 18-15, Dunedin (World Cup pool match)
1980: Fiji won 16-3 in Suva

Prediction: Playing at home will boost Fiji's chances of victory, especially as Italy are without stalwarts like Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni. Fiji to win by four points!

The teams:

Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Napolioni Nalaga, 13 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12 Nemani Nadolo, 11 Timoci Nagusa, 10 Jonetani Ralulu, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Api Naikatini, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Isei Coalti, 19 Wame Lewaravu, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Watisoni Votu, 23 Adriu Delai.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (c), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Andrea de Marchi, 18 Alberto de Marchi, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Andrea Masi.

Date: Saturday, June 7
Venue: National Stadium, Suva
Kick-off: 15:00 local (04:00 BST, 03:00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Johan Hoffmann (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
Assessor: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)