Updated: Friday, 31 January 2014 04:13 | By Agence France-Presse

Italy target 'strong performance' against Wales

Italy coach Jacques Brunel said he is hoping for a "strong performance" from his side when they line up for their Six Nations opener against defending champions Wales on Saturday.


Italy target 'strong performance' against Wales

Italy's rugby union national team coach Jacques Brunel poses on January 20, 2014 in front of the Colosseum in Rome - by Gabriel Bouys

Italy followed up a promising 2013 Six Nations campaign with a mediocre tour of the southern hemisphere last summer and an even more worrying series of displays in the November tests.

However Brunel, who steered Italy to a fourth-place finish last year, indicated his side should not be under-estimated.

"A win would be beautiful and obviously the result counts, but a strong performance on the field is what most interests me," Brunel told media as he unveiled his team for the Millennium Stadium clash.

"The statistics show that Wales are the strongest side in Europe, but I think we have a team that can give a good account of itself.

"Wales's potential is very high but I'm hoping we can stand up well throughout the game."

Staying faithful to a formula which has had varying degrees of success for Italy over the past two years, Brunel has selected a team infused with youth as well as experience as he continues to build towards the 2015 World Cup.

No. 8 and captain Sergio Parisse will help marshall an experienced scrum which, together, boast 587 caps.

Flanker Mauro Bergamasco, who is back at openside flanker, returned to Italy's squad in November for a 37-31 defeat of Fiji, having sat out the second test, a 50-20 defeat to Australia.

Both Parisse and tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni will pick up their 102nd caps for Italy respectively, only one shy of the national record of 103 held by retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero.

Brunel, however, has also included a number of younger players that he hopes will show their mettle in what should be a crunching encounter in Cardiff.

While Australian-born Luke McLean (52 caps) retains the full-back position, Benetton Treviso's Angelo Esposito comes in at right wing to make his Azzurri debut.

Alongside experienced inside centre Alberto Sgarbi, Michele Campagnaro comes in at outside centre to pick up only his third cap, a feat that will also be achieved by left wing Leonardo Sarto.

Brunel has remained faithful to the half-back partnership of Tommaso Allan and Edoardo Gori which started Italy's final November test, a 19-14 defeat to Argentina.

While Gori will claim his 30th cap for Italy, it is only Allan's fourth in the Azzurri shirt.

Brunel admitted that injury niggles elsewhere in his squad had partly determined his team composition, but hinted he was looking much further ahead.

"Our choices have been partly determined by the physical condition of some players in the group. Some are less physically match fit than others," said the Frenchman.

"But we want to give the young guys a chance to show what they can do. Only time will tell if we've made the right decision but I hope it will be positive for us all."

Italy will wear black armbands in Cardiff in memory of Salvatore Di Padova, a 15-year-old National Academy player who died recently in a car crash.

Team (15-1)

Luke McLean; Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Alberto Sgarbi, Leonardo Sarto; Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Alessandro Zanni; Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys; Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Michele Rizzo

Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Joshua Furno, Francesco Minto, Tobias Botes, Luciano Orquera, Tommaso Iannone

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