Planet Rugby

Preview: Italy v Fiji

15th November 2013 08:44

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Sergio Parisse Italy 2013

Italy's key man: Sergio Parisse

Italy will be determined to bounce back from last weekend's drubbing against Australia, when they host Fiji in Cremona on Saturday.

The Azzurri's 50-20 defeat to the Wallabies was a setback for coach Jacques Brunel who has made great progress since he took over the reins after the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Italy went into that clash against Australia brimming with confidence after completing their most successful Six Nations since joining the tournament in 2000.

That campaign, which included triumphs over France and Ireland, saw them sharing third spot on the table with Scotland at the end of the competition.

But they were brought crashing down to earth by the rejuvenated Wallabies, who fought back, after trailing 10-0 early on, to score seven tries.

While captain and number eight Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni are set to make their 100th appearances in Cremona, they are among only seven players to retain their starting places after Brunel wielded the axe.

The coach admitted that Italy's morale suffered a blow and expects amends to be made against Fiji before they take on Argentina in their final Test of the year in Rome on November 23.

"Against Australia last Saturday the team didn't play to its full potential, and this is certainly one of the reasons we've made so many changes," explained Brunel.

"But we also want to use these games to give a chance to the players who have been selected.

"Morale is obviously not high after defeat to the Wallabies but it's clear we expect a different attitude and approach against Fiji, especially with regards to our defence."

Italy's traditional strength is the performance of their pack. They pride themselves on dominating the physical exchanges - particularly the scrums - but they even battled in this department against the Wallabies.

The new scrum laws introduced by the IRB earlier this season is something which they are battling with and Brunel expects more frustration at the set-piece this weekend.

"I've seen difficulties in all the matches so far," said Brunel.

"Against Australia we had seven put-ins and three against, and our pack just wasn't as effective as we'd expect it to be.

"I think the fact it's the referee who decides when the ball is put in offers an advantage to the team which is defending."

Fiji boss Inoke Mali will be happy after his side got their end-of-year tour off to a fine start with a 36-13 victory over Portugal last weekend but he knows that his side will have to show considerable improvement if they want a repeat of that result against the Azzurri.

The Flying Fijians' team manager Joseph Browne said their preparations for the clash with Italy were on course as they wanted to build on their victory over Portugal.

"The team's training today (Wednesday) was a blast," Browne told the Fiji Times.

"There were two blow out sessions coupled with analysis and one on ones with coaches and trainers, to analyse the team and individual performances during the game against Portugal and how best to put together a game-plan against Italy."

Despite that win, which boosted their morale, much will depend on the performance of their forwards against the counterparts, who are out to prove a point.

Fiji's pack in the 15-man of the game has been a weakness which has seen them failing to match their achievements in the Sevens arena. Their captain, Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera will have to work wonders as a motivator if they want to match the Azzurri up front.

If their forwards can at least be competitive, and provide a decent platform for their backs, then Fiji can cause an upset. But if they don't, it could be a long day at office for the islanders.

This weekend's clash is significant as these two teams have played each other on eight previous occassions and both sides have won four matches apiece.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Skipper Sergio Parisse is playing in his 100th Test and will be keen to make it a special occasion for him and fellow centurion, Martin Castrogiovanni. Parisse was kept in check by the Wallabies and made little impact in that defeat last weekend. When on song, he is arguably the most influential player in his team and the Azzurri's supporters will be hoping for a fitting performance in this momentous match from the Stade Français stalwart.

For Fiji: Speedster Napolioni Nalaga is one of the game's best finishers and when he builds up a head of steam is difficult to stop. Nalaga is a try-scoring machine who has impressed with Clermont in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup. He combines speed and agility with explosive power and if his team-mates can create space for him, he will wreak havoc.

Herd-to-head: The battle between the fly-halves in any match is always fascinating as they have so much influence on the game. Italy welcome back Luciano Orquera while Fiji have put their faith in veteran pivot Serenaia Bai. Both players are potential match-winners and their decision-making will play a huge role in determining the result.

Previous results:
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: The Azzurri are on a mission to redeem themselves after last weekend's humiliating loss to Australia and will prove too strong for the Pacific islanders. Italy to win by 12 points!

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Tommaso Iannone, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Valerio Bernabo, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro.

Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12 Nemani Nadolo, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Serenaia Bai, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotukula, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Apisai Naikatini, 3 Setefano Somoca, 2 Viliame Veikoso, 1 Jereremaia Yanuyanutawa.
Replacements: 16 Seremaia Namaralevu, 17 Campese Ma'afu, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Waisea Luveniyali, 23 Adriu Delai.

Date: Saturday, November 16
Venue: Stadio Zini, Cremona
Kick-off 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Joaquin Montes (Uruguay)
Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)

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