Italy kick-off their November schedule with a must-win fixture against Tonga as they look to build confidence before facing New Zealand.
Italy will kick-off their November Test schedule with a vital fixture against Tonga as they attempt to build some confidence before taking on the All Blacks and Wallabies later this month.
June victories against Canada and the USA on foreign soil brought a boost to the Azzurri and Jacques Brunel has stressed the importance of backing the wins up in their series opener against the islanders, who boast such names as Fetu'u Vainikolo, Taniela Moa and Viliami Ma'afu.
“We have been training with the best possible squad but we're not thinking about the two games we have coming up later” revealed coach Brunel.
“We have won three of our last four games and our goal is to keep the momentum going. The only game I am thinking about is Tonga, we're not thinking about what comes later.”
This year's November series has been given an added dimension as it will decide the seedings for next month's draw for World Cup 2015 in England. And while that will be an incentive for both teams, Italy will start Saturday's match as firm favourites for victory.
Tonga's last success over Italy was a 28-25 win in Leicester during the 1999 World Cup. The Azzurri have since made amends with a 36-10 victory in the 2003 World Cup and a 48-0 rout in Prato, Italy in 2005. After Saturday's game Tonga head coach Mana 'Otai will lead his side against the United States, Scotland and Premiership outfit Newcastle Falcons. Although they have been in Brescia training this week, Mana had little time in which to trim his Sea Eagles squad during a three-day training camp in Gruissan, France.
“We tried to concentrate on giving the players the tools, patterns and plays they will need during the tour without overloading them during the two-and-a-half days we had to work with,” said the Tongan coach.
Despite his claims, meanwhile, Brunel appears to have one eye on the All Blacks and Wallabies Tests having left some established players on the bench. While Italy wing Mirco Bergamasco is sidelined with injury, prop Martin Castrogiovanni is in jersey eighteen.
“Both are international level props but Cittadini has played more at this early stage of the season than Castrogiovanni and in his hometown I think Lorenzo deserves the chance to start the game,” added Brunel.
“Cittadini has already played in the position at the Six Nations when Castrogiovanni was injured and in recent weeks Castro has not played much with the Tigers.”
Influential number eight Sergio Parisse will start and London Wasps full-back Andrea Masi makes his return having missed the June tour of North America.
“Andrea is in great physical condition, his confidence is flying and I think he will make a good contribution,” said Brunel.
South African-born Tobias Botes comes in at scrum-half following a mediocre Six Nations tournament which he exited with an elbow injury against Scotland. Meanwhile, making his debut will be Tommaso Iannone, who has forced wing Giovambattista Venditti on to the bench thanks to some strong performances for Treviso and the absence of Bergamasco.
“The choice was between Iannone and Venditti, given the unavailability of Mirco Bergamasco,” added Brunel.
“But he's not such a surprise inclusion. He has been strong for Treviso and also impressive in training.
“Either we wait, or we get him in there quickly, and we chose the latter option.”
Prediction: Italy should use their structured game to grind out a win by around 15 points!
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Tommaso Iannone, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchie, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Simone Favaro, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Giovambattista Venditti.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Viliami Helu, 10 Fangatapu 'Apikotoa, 9 Taniela Moa (capt), 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Sione Vaiomo'unga, 6 Sitiveni Mafi, 5 Tukulua Lokotui, 4 Joe Tu'ineau, 3 Halani 'Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Alisona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Ilaisa Ma'asi, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Hale T-Pole, 19 Paula Kaho, 20 Samisoni Fisilau, 21 Alipate Fatafehi, 22 Viliame Iongi, 23 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Venue: Stadio Mario Rigamonti, Brescia
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Mathieu Raynal (France)
Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)