RBS Six Nations 2014 - Italy preview
Injury-ravaged Italy face a tough ask to repeat their 2013 heroics in this year's Six Nations
Last Updated: 30/01/14 11:37pm
However, they have some tough away fixtures in 2014 and realistically they will be battling with Scotland to avoid the wooden spoon.
Italy's poor showing in the Quadrangular Tournament in June is certainly a worry where they not only suffered heavy losses against South Africa and Samoa, but also lost to Scotland. They did not fare much better in their autumn series where Australia put 50 points past them, and despite a win against Fiji, they also lost to Argentina.
To add to their problems, they also have a long injury list and will be unable to call on the likes of Gonzalo Canale, Andrea Masi, Simone Favaro and Tito Tebaldi, forcing coach Jacques Brunel to throw some young inexperienced players into the mix.
The experience of the Bergamasco brothers may be crucial for them in light of all their injury woes, while the fly-half Tommaso Allan will need to have nerves of steel to keep their expansive and attacking gameplan alive.
The danger is that they will revert to type - a tight forward-based game with their No.10 kicking for territory, although both Brunel and skipper Sergio Parisse have insisted that they will be bold and will play an attacking and expansive brand of rugby. Time will tell if they will stick to this.
Flanker Alessandro Zanni will be crucial for Italy at the breakdown - the unsung hero of the pack is always at the heart of everything that the Azzurri do well.
They kick off their campaign with two tough away games - Wales and France - before hosting Scotland at Stadio Olimpico in a game that could decide if they finish bottom or not.
Last season: 4th
Head coach: Jacques Brunel: "Experience is vital, but what we must do now is usher in young players as quickly as possible. We have to integrate them very quickly to the level of competition: the speed of the game, the choices, the decisions, the reactions and how you can adapt to what happens."
Captain: Sergio Parisse: "We haven't targeted a specific number of wins. We want to hit the same levels of performance that we produced during last year's Six Nations. We didn't play good rugby last summer in South Africa or the autumn internationals. We must be consistent in our performances."
Ground: Stadio Olimpico
Sky Bet odds: 100/1
Fixtures: Feb 2 v Wales (a), Feb 8 v France (a), Feb 22 v Scot (h), Mar 8 v Ireland (a), Mar 15 v England (h)
Forwards (16): Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon/FRA), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Alberto De Marchi (Treviso), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Davide Giazzon (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre), Marco Fuser (Treviso), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Antonio Pavanello (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre), Paul Derbyshire (Treviso), Joshua Furno (Biarritz/FRA), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais/FRA, capt), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso)
Backs (14): Tobias Botes (Treviso), Edoardo Gori (Treviso), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan/FRA), Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Tommaso Benvenuti (Perpignan/FRA), Michele Campagnaro (Treviso), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre), Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso), Mirco Bergamasco (Rovigo), Angelo Esposito (Treviso), Tommaso Iannone (Zebre), Luke McLean (Treviso), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre)