Preview: Italy v Canada

Date published: September 25 2015

Following respective losses to Ireland and France first up, Canada and Italy will be desperate to get a victory on the board at Elland Road on Saturday.

It has gone to script thus far in Pool D as the Six Nations heavyweight pair have hit the front while the Azzurri, Canadians and Romania are chasing below.

This will be a match Canada would have targeted as being a dream shock, as win it and third position and automatic qualification for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 would become a very real possibility. Italy though, even without their injured captain Sergio Parisse, will have other ideas in Yorkshire this weekend.

Defeat to France last week isn't the end of their knockout hopes just yet as they know if they beat Ireland they could progress. Parisse should be fit and firing by that point and if they can keep their defence as strong as it was for the first-half at Twickenham, they will fancy their chances of overturning the Canadians.

Speaking of defence and that was a real concern for Canada against the Irish, particularly in the wide channels off first-phase ball, something the Azzurri would be wise to have noted in their pre-game. Coach Kieran Crowley, however, will in turn have been rectifying the problem.

Losing one of their star players, Jeff Hassler, to a minor injury is a blow but the return of Tyler Ardron to number eight certainly strenghtens their pack, which has plenty of bulk in the form of Jamie Cudmore, Jebb Sinclair and Nanyak Dala.

One surprise to Canada's side is the decision to hand Jamie Mackenzie his World Cup debut, coming in above Gordon McRorie and Phil Mack. He'll hope to repay the faith shown in him by Crowley who makes five changes in all to his XV. Another notable inclusion is Phil Mackenzie on the wing, joining brother Jamie in an historic moment for the family.

Italy head coach Jacques Brunel changes four players with props Michele Rizzo and Lorenzo Cittadini stepping up from the bench while there's a new centre partnership of Gonzalo Garcia and Tommaso Benvenuti. Campagnaro is benched while an Achilles injury rules Masi out of the tournament. Needless to say other men must step up and lead this backline.

The Azzurri will no doubt be playing for Masi on Saturday and should have the tools to see off the spirited Canadian side. It won't be a simple task though at Elland Road as Canada are a threat not to be taken lightly. Expect an arm-wrestle for large stages of the game, especially during the early sparring, with plenty of spice set to keep referee George Clancy busy.

Ones to watch:

For Italy: The Azzurri are possibly looking after Martin Castrogiovanni ahead of facing Ireland eight days after this match. Replacing him at tighthead will be the experienced Lorenzo Cittadini who, alongside Michele Rizzo will relish their shot.

For Canada: He was outstanding in a losing cause against Ireland, and Canada will hope DTH van der Merwe continues to bring that sort of hunger against Italy. Tireless in both attack and defence, the Scarlet needs another big 80 minutes.

Head-to-head: Canada will be looking for a much-improved performance from Ciaran Hearn this week as he struggled to cope with the Irish decoy runners and pace wide out. Of course it was a collective issue but Hearn is a proud man and will hope to get more ball in hand this week to show his power against dangerous Italian runner Tommaso Benvenuti.

Recent results:

2012: Italy won 25-16 in Toronto
2006: Italy won 41-6 in Fontanafredda
2004: Italy won 51-6 in L'Aquila
2003: Italy won 19-14 in Canberra
2000: Canada won 22-17 in Rovigo

Prediction: Early sparring before the Azzurri manage to turn the screw. Italy by 15!

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Michele Campagnaro.

Canada: 15 Matt Evans, 14 Phil Mackenzie, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Connor Braid, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Nathan Hirayama, 9 Jamie Mackenzie, 8 Tyler Ardron (c), 7 John Moonlight, 6 Nanyak Dala, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Doug Wooldridge, 2 Ray Barkwill, 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Carpenter, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Kyle Gilmour, 21 Phil Mack, 22 Conor Trainor, 23 Harry Jones.

Date: Saturday, September 26
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)