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Preview: Italy v Australia

23rd November 2012 11:01

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Kurtley Beale Aus v Italy RWC 2011

Big battle: Italy v Australia

Italy will want to be at their best for a full 80 minutes when they face a rejuvenated Wallabies side in Florence on Saturday.

The Azzurri showed last week that if they apply themselves they have the ability to compete with the best.

Despite losing 42-10 to New Zealand in Rome, Jacques Brunel's charges managed to frustrate the All Blacks for 60 minutes and were still in the game before the world champions' superior fitness levels proved telling in the final quarter.

Scrum-half Edoardo Gori knows they will have to show improvement against the Wallabies, who are on a high after a fine all-round display in their 20-14 win over England last week.

"It will be a big challenge for us," he said.

"Australia arrive on the back of an impressive victory over England and are one of the best teams in the world.

"We have to try and do for eighty minutes against Australia what we did against the All Blacks for 60."

Brunel, is a shrewd tactician who would have put that result to bed and knows that the Wallabies are a side that presents their own challenges.

"We're playing against a really top level team which, in their last outing against the All Blacks put them in difficulty before drawing the match 18-18," he said.

"Even though Australia suffered a heavy defeat against France they bounced back to beat England last week."

Despite impressing in Saturday's win over England, Australia have been very inconsistent in 2012. Over their past five matches the Wallabies have a record of: win, loss, draw, win and loss.

Coach Robbie Deans is determined to rectify that and does not see his starting XV as a weakened side, even though he has made four changes to it.

Amongst those is highly-rated loose forward Scott Higginbotham, who returns to action after serving a two-match suspension and 33-year-old scrum-half Brett Sheehan (making his first run-on appearance for Australia).

After their fine showing at Twickenham, the Wallabies will be brimming with confidence - especially after their showing in the scrums.

Many observers felt that this would be an area where they would struggle against England, but Deans and the rest of his coaching staff did their homework and surprised their opponents.

The set-piece is traditionally one of Italy's strengths and it will be interesting to see if Deans' pack will be able to put in a similar performance in this facet of the game to last week's.

One Wallaby in particular will be relishing the challenge of taking on the Azzurri in their own backyard.

Full-back Berrick Barnes contributed 22 points to Australia's 32-14 win over Italy in Florence in 2010 - which was the last time these sides met on Italian soil.

Barnes also contributed 15 points against England which took his tally to 102 from 11 appearances in Gold for the year. Prior to this year, Barnes had totalled 83 points across his first five years as a Test player.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Italy's captain and number eight Sergio Parisse hardly puts a foot wrong at the base of the scrum. He leads from the front and when he's on song it seems to inspire those around him. His bullocking runs could prove a handful for the Wallabies' defence and his decision-making, especially under pressure, will be important if the hosts want to be triumphant.

For Australia: With Quade Cooper out of the picture, Scott Higginbotham has become the Wallaby New Zealanders love to hate after his attack on Richie McCaw. He served his suspension, however, and will be relishing the prospect of making an impact against the Azzurri. A devestating ball-carrier, Higginbotham's ability to get his team over the advantage line will be crucial in putting his side onto the front-foot.

Herd-to-head: Although the scrums will be crucial, keep a close eye on the battle for the loose ball where Italy's Robert Barbieri will do battle with highly-rated Wallabies scavenger Michael Hooper who gave a man-of-the-match performance in the win over England. Barbieri's selection is seen as a counter to Hooper's threat and it will be interesting to see if he can match his opposite number.

Previous results:
2011: Australia won 32-6, Albany (RWC)
2010:Australia won 32-14, Florence
2009:Australia won 34-12, Melbourne
2009:2009: Australia won 31-8, Canberra
2008:Australia won 30-20, Padova
2006:Australia won 25-18 in Rome
2005:Australia won 69-25 in Melbourne
2002:Australia won 34-3 in Genova
1996:Australia won 40-18 in Padova
1994:Australia won 20-7 in Melbourne
1994:Australia won 23-20 in Brisbane
1988:Australia won 55-6 in Rome
1986:Australia won 39-18 in Brisbane
1983:Australia won 29-7 in Rovigo

Prediction: The changes to Australia's line-up will not weaken them but their inconsistency will surely be weighing on their minds. Italy on the other hand will be buoyant after their performance against the All Blacks and will not take a step back. It should be close but...Italy to win by three points!

The teams:

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Simone Favaro, 21 Manoa Vosawai, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Luke McLean.

Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Digby Ioane

Date: Saturday, November 24br>Venue: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Kick-off 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Weather: Partly cloudy with the temperature reaching a high of 16°C
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)

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