Talismanic No 8 Sergio Parisse is all set to become rugby union’s second most capped player when he skippers Italy in their crunch Pool B game against Springboks of South Africa on Friday.
Sergio Parisse is on merit list for his 142nd cap, overtaking Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll, with New Zealand’s Richie McCaw atop the overal list with 149 Test appearances. Italy coach Conor O’Shea retained 12 of the team that beat Canada 48-7, handing starting spots to Parisse, Tito Tebaldi and Luca Morisi.
Sergio Parisse is in the squad for the do-or-die match in Shizuoka with Gloucester’s Jake Polledri and South African-born Abraham Steyn in a competitive backrow. Italian captain Dean Budd, locks down with David Sisi, Andrea Lovotti and Simone Ferrari propping down either side of Luca Bigi.
Meanwhile, Tito Tebaldi is facing the daunting task of keeping livewire Faf de Klerk quiet at scrum-half, with Tommaso Allan given the task of dictating play at number 10. Jayden Hayward and Luca Morisi will hold midfield, with Michele Campagnaro and Tommaso Benvenuti taking care of the wings and Matteo Minozzi at full-back.
Italy kicked off their campaign with an unreliable 47-22 victory over minnows Namibia, which means that they have a highest 10 points after their opening two matches, with the All Blacks of New Zealand awaiting them after the South Africa game.
“We’ve been looking at what’s the best group we could have. We’ve specifically planned to play against South Africa and tinkered at various different things. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be physical, and we’ve picked players who can interchange, no matter what numbers are on their backs,” said O’Shea.
O’Shea plumped for a six-two forwards-backs split on the bench — warming up for a tough clash upfront.
“We did discuss going 8-0 on bench because of what promises to be a forwards battle, but we’ll leave that for another day. You’ve lost the game before you’ve even started if you can’t front up physically. It’s a war, South Africa, nothing else. I’m glad I’m off the pitch and not on against them,” the former Ireland full-back joked.
Previously we were looking whether Parisse will be benched for the game considering Steyn’s enticing performance from No 8 against Canada.
But O’Shea cleared the air almost immediately saying, “We talk the whole time about selection. But Sergio is one of the greatest players under the high ball and his role this weekend will be more fundamental than normal, fielding kicks and helping out our back three. He’s outstanding and we also have great strength and depth in our backrow, even with players we’ve left at home.”
Furthermore, O’Shea said, “You need heart and courage to play South Africa and I know our team’s got them in spadefuls. All the pressure is on South Africa,” who lost their opener 23-13 to New Zealand before a second-string side beat Namibia 57-3.
Matteo Minozzi; Tommaso Benvenuti, Luca Morisi, Jayden Hayward, Michele Campagnaro; Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Sergio Parisse (capt), Jake Polledri, Braam Steyn; Dean Budd, David Sisi; Simone Ferrari, Luca Bigi, Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: Federico Zani, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Alessandro Zanni, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Callum Braley, Carlo Canna