Preview: Italy v Fiji

Date published: November 27 2010

We're set for a true clash of styles on Saturday as Fiji arrive in Modena to face an Italy side that is long overdue a victory.

We're set for a true clash of styles on Saturday as Fiji arrive in Modena with a spring in their step to face an Italy side that's long overdue a victory.

It's a tough job to wear azzurri these days. For all their gallant fighting week in and week out, Italy have won just two games (against Samoa and Scotland) in 23 starts since November 2008.

To be fair, Nick Mallett's side almost always play against the world's top rugby nations so it would be unreasonable to expect them to have a high winning percentage, but surely the bitter taste of defeat must be sapping the morale of Italy's finest.

Saturday offers the Italians their best opportunity to record a Test victory since they got the better of Scotland back in February.

But the hosts will take a healthy dose of caution with them to the Stadio Braglia. Fiji are two places above Italy (who are a lowly twelfth) in the IRB world rankings and the Islanders' shock draw against Wales last week was proof that they should never be underestimated.

Fiji always struggle with continuity at the start of tours as their rapidly assembled team tries to gel. But after three weeks together, we should expect a further improvement on their Cardiff performance.

It seems appropriate that the tourists visited the nearby Ferrari factory on their day off – their rugby is all about pace. Even if it is set to be bitterly cold by Fijian standards, with dry, sunny conditions forecast (unlike the snow they were greeted by in 2005) the visitors will be a handful if they manage to get the ball wide.

But therein lies the trouble for the men in white. Getting their hands on the ball. Unlike Wales, there is simply no way Mallett will allow his side to be dragged into an open running game.

There's no mystery here. Italy's monster pack will keep it as tight as they can and try rumble their way to the whitewash. Given the quality of the home side's set piece and maul, we see no reason why they shouldn't succeed.

It's classic case of chalk and formaggio. It should be intriguing.

Players to watch:

For Italy: There's never a lack of praise for Italy skipper Sergio Parisse but his back row partner Alessandro Zanni is often overlooked. Zanni is a quality player and has become a vital cog in the increasingly successful Treviso machine. With Italy sure to be charging around the fringes of rucks and mauls, Zanni could have a busy afternoon.

For Fiji: Left out of the initial squad, Racing Metro centre Albert Vulivuli was a late addition to the touring party but has not disappointed. Fiji's try-scorer in Cardiff, the 25-year-old has real pace and at 6ft3' (1.90m) and 104 kg, he's no lightweight. His knowledge of Racing team-mates Andrea Masi and Mirco Bergamasco will come in handy too.

Head-to-head: The opposing half-back pairings will have very different, but equally important tasks on Saturday. Seremaia Baï is a world class playmaker and will be looking to give his centres lots of space to run into. In contrast, Luciano Orquera and rookie scrum-half Edoardo Gori will have to keep their pack on the front foot. The axis duo that get's it right should lead their side to victory.

Previous results:

2006: Fiji won 29-18 in Lautoka
2005: Italy won 23 -8 in Monza
2001: Italy won 66-10 in Treviso
2000: Fiji won 43-9 in Lautoka
1999: Fiji won 50-32 in L'Aquila
1987: Italy won 18-15 in Dunedin
1980: Fiji won 16-3 3 in Suva

Prediction: It's a tough call to bet against Fiji considering their heroics last Friday, but we can't see the Islanders being able to compete with the home side's heavies. Italy by six points

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (C), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements:16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Santiago Dellape, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Tommaso Benvenuti.

Fiji: 15 Norman Ligairi, 14 Vereniki Goneva , 13 Albert Vulivuli, 12 Gabriele Lovobalavu, 11 Napolioni Nalaga , 10 Seremaia Baï, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Semisi Saukawa, 5 Jone Qovu, 4 Wame Lewaravu, 3 Deacon Manu (c), 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Vesi Rarawa, 18 Sekonaia Kalou, 19 Jimilai Naikadawa, 20 Seveci Taka, 21 Seru Rabeni, 22 Taniela Rawaqa.

Date:Saturday, November 27
Venue: Stadio Braglia, Modena
Kick-off: 14.00 (13.00 GMT)
Weather: 5°C. Sunny.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), James Jones (Wales)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)