independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Parisse confident Italians can emerge from 'little Six Nations' group

Italian captain Sergio Parisse stopped short of overstating his ambitions for the 2015 World Cup but there was no hiding his belief that Italy have the potential to take one of the two qualifying spots from Pool D, with Ireland very much the bullseye of Italy's target.

France will be favoured to qualify from Pool D as champions with Ireland expected to take the runners-up slot.

However, Italy's continuing improvement at international level gives Parisse much cause for growing ambition. "For us, our objective is to try to qualify. It is not impossible but it is going to be difficult," said Parisse.

"Year by year the Italian team is improving and we are surely close to beating big teams. We did against France a couple of years ago (2011) and we put the pressure on Australia this November so I think we will have our chances in 2015.

"But still, it's a difficult pool for us, especially as we will be trying to qualify from the pool for the first time."

France, beaten finalists three times, will have loftier ambitions. They will, as ever, travel to the World Cup believing they can win the competition. For captain Thierry Dusautoir the attraction of possibly facing New Zealand is hugely motivating.

"Maybe we are going to have our revenge for the final against New Zealand," he said. "But we know each game is really hard and we're going to have to continue to improve. We know the others teams well and we have a big rendezvous in the next Six Nations against Ireland and Italy."

That France, Ireland and Italy will all meet each other three times between now and the 2015 World Cup is something all three sides commented on. It means that any element of surprise between the teams will be well and truly absent when they meet in England.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre was especially pleased not to have been drawn in a tougher pool.

"It's a European pool, it's like being in a little Six Nations again. But it's true that we can be happy to not be in a pool which is really hot."

The France coach was certainly not, however, being dismissive of the challenge that Ireland and Italy represent, despite an excellent record against Ireland in recent years.

"Yes but we drew the last game at Stade de France, so you never know. The big things for us are that we had a good November, we won those three games against Australia, Argentina and Samoa and we finished in the first four (of the rankings) which is a big boost for us.

"You can see the 12 teams are very good teams and on one day any team can beat anybody else. Each pool will be tough and we just need to come and perform very well and if we come second then, if I understand the pool draw, we'll play New Zealand in the quarter-finals. So it's better to finish top of the group."

Parisse, however, has more pressing concerns than the World Cup, with the start of the Six Nations now just around the corner.

"We are looking forward to the next Six Nations with confidence when we play three matches at home against Wales, Ireland and France," he said.

"I think it's going to be a good Six Nations for us next year."

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