There should be plenty of thrilling action when Italy get their end-of-year Test campaign underway against a confident Fiji side in Catania on Saturday.
Italy will be out for revenge after they suffered a cruel blow in the previous match between these sides – a 22-19 triumph to the Pacific Islanders after Ben Volavola landed a drop-goal with the final act of the match.
That result formed part of an underwhelming run of results for the Azzurri, who also suffered losses to Scotland and Australia during June. This means Italy are still winless at Test level in 2017 after they lost all five their matches in the Six Nations earlier this year.
Despite those poor results, Italy head coach Conor O’Shea is optimistic his side can turn the corner this weekend.
“I’m excited for this first challenge of the season, happy with the preparation work we have done so far,” he said.
“Zebre and Treviso have started with some interesting performances and looking at the team we have chosen for Saturday’s match I think there is a great group, an interesting mix between our two franchises and the overseas players.
“We are working hard with these guys and I think the future for us can be positive.”
The Pacific Islanders have named a strong starting line-up and there are several potent attackers in their backline and players like Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Jale Vatubua all capable of wreaking havoc on attack.
Much will depend on the performance of their forwards, however. If they can stand up to the physicality of their counterparts, and provide their backs with quality ball, then they could upset their hosts.
Fiji head coach John McKee believes Vatubua, who plays for Pau in the Top 14, is ready to kick on after making his Test debut against Australia ealier this year.
“Jale was excellent for us throughout the June-July Test internationals,” McKee told the Fiji Sun.
“We need him to continue that good form during this campaign.
“He is a strong player week in week out at his club Pau in France and I am looking for him to continue this for the Flying Fijians.
“He has formed a good combination with former All Blacks Colin Slade and Conrad Smith at Pau.”
Players to Watch:
For Fiji: While Fiji possess several attacking threats in their backline, keep an eye on their athletic second-row Leone Nakarawa who is sure to light up this match with his superb skill-set. Nakarawa’s prowess with ball in hand makes him a threat to any defence especially his offloading ability which can bamboozle opponents when he’s on song.
For Italy: He may be in the twighlight of his career but Sergio Parisse is still one of the first names onto Azzurri head coach Conor O’Shea’s teamsheet. Over the years, Parisse can run with the backs but he is also able to graft with his forwards which makes him such a special player. He will be expected to lead from the front and, as captain, his decision making in pressure situations will also be important.
Head-to-head: Both sides will rely heavily on their fly-halves and in Italy’s Carlo Canna and Fiji’s Ben Volavola we have two talented playmakers. Both players are accurate goalkickers but also capable of swinging the course of a match with their brilliance on attack. With both sides set to employ expansive game-plans, the duo’s playmaking skills should have a huge bearing on the result of this Test.
2017: Fiji won 22-19 in Suva
2014: Fiji won 25-14 in Suva
2013: Italy won 37-31 in Cremona
2010: Italy won 24-16 in Modena
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
Prediction: Home ground advantage will be crucial in what should be another close affair. Italy to win by three points.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tomasso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Giovanni Licara, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Matteo Minozzi
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Timoci Nagusa, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Semi Kunatani, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma’afu
Replacements: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Ropate Rinakama, 19 Sikeli Nabou, 20 Mosese Voka, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Levani Botia, 23 Vereniki Goneva
Date: Saturday, November 11
Venue: Stadio Angelo Massimino, Catania
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)