ROME (AP) Italy coach Conor O’Shea has made five changes from the team that beat South Africa in November for its Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday.
Edoardo Gori didn’t start any of the November tests, but the Treviso scrum-half has been given the nod ahead of Giorgio Bronzini and Carlo Canna.
Maxime Mbanda, who is making his debut in the tournament, and Abraham Steyn will flank long-standing captain Sergio Parisse in the back row. Parisse will extend his record to 122 appearances for the Azzurri – 74 as captain – in his 14th Six Nations.
Article continues below ...
The No. 8 missed Italy’s surprise loss to Tonga, the week after beating South Africa.
Prop Andrea Lovotti is back for the first time since Italy’s loss to New Zealand in November and makes up the front row alongside Ornel Gega and Lorenzo Cittadini.
Behind them will be lock George Biagi, also promoted from the bench, and Marco Fuser.
The back three and centers are unchanged with Edoardo Padovani at fullback and Giulio Bisegni and Giovanbattista Venditti on the wings, while Luke McLean and Tommaso Benvenuti will resume their partnership.
There could be plenty of impact from the bench, with the pace of in-form Michele Campagnaro – who has six tries in his last three matches for Exeter Chiefs – and Tommaso Allan, as well as the experience of Leonardo Ghiraldini.
Italy didn’t win a match in last year’s Six Nations and was humiliated 67-14 by Wales in the final match. But it is a reinvigorated side since O’Shea replaced Jacques Brunel after the tournament.
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (captain), Maxime Mbanda, Abraham Steyn, George Biagi, Marco Fuser, Lorenzo Cittadini, Ornel Gega, Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Sami Panico, Pietro Ceccarelli, Joshua Furno, Francesco Minto, Giorgio Bronzini, Tommaso Allan, Michele Campagnaro.