Brunel trusts in Botes to make the difference
Published 23/02/2012 | 05:00
Italian coach Jacques Brunel has placed his faith in the player whose fluffed place-kicks cost his side a historic victory at Rome's Olympic Stadium two weeks ago, and the Azzurri will take the field without two of their most recognisable props.
With wing Luke McLean issuing a pointed warning about Ireland's supposed spoiling tactics at the breakdown, Brunel has made four changes to his side after a pair of opening defeats to France and England.
Tobias Botes, who missed two late efforts against England, will earn his first start at out-half, with Kristopher Burton relegated to the bench in a clear indication that Brunel intends to continue his quest for a more expansive approach.
Centre Gonzalo Canale is also benched, his place being taken by Alberto Sgarbi.
Benetton Treviso loosehead prop Michele Rizzo will make his Six Nations debut in Dublin, replacing veteran Andrea Lo Cicero, who doesn't even make the bench, in an all Treviso front-row.
Lorenzo Cittadini will make his first start in the Six Nations, replacing injured Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni, who will miss the rest of the tournament after sustaining a fractured rib in the defeat by England.
Aironi prop Fabio Staibano has also been included in Brunel's squad -- he has not played a Test since the summer of 2009.
Neither of the talismanic Bergamasco brothers will play, Mauro joining shoulder injury victim Mirco on the sidelines yesterday after confirmation of a month-long ban for striking in the recent Pro12 tie between Aironi and the Ospreys.
"With the introduction of Rizzo we now have the front-row of Benetton Treviso," said Brunel at yesterday's announcement. "It is important to have such a well tried and tested front-row.
"As for Botes, I wanted to try something different as I think it is important to have a choice of players at out-half. He likes to play close to the gain line. So let's see if he can do something a bit different for Italy at this level.
"Canale is not fully fit. Sgarbi did not play that well against France, so we want to see him again."
Australian-born McLean has already attempted to bend the ear of South African whistler Craig Joubert ahead of the contest by aiming a thinly-veiled barb at Ireland's breakdown work.
"They're perhaps the best team in the world at the breakdown; they do everything to slow down the ball and they do it well because they're not penalised by the referees," he said.
"In training we studied how we can beat them on this plan; we have to get the ball out quickly."
McLean's thoughts were echoed by the dropped Canale. "On a world level they're the team who create the most problems at the breakdown," he said.
"From the tackle their defence tries to get on top of the man to slow down the ball and give them a chance of a turnover. We've worked a lot on that these last few weeks."
Looking back to last year when Italy were denied a first Six Nations win against Ireland by a late Ronan O'Gara drop goal in Rome, Canale admitted it still rankled.
"We were really close to winning, we just lacked a bit of quality in the management of the game," he said. "But we've been able to compete for several years now."
Meanwhile, Andrew Trimble is convinced that Ireland can manage to overcome the absence of Brian O'Driscoll as they seek to kickstart their championship challenge.
"Brian's a loss, of course he is," said the Ulster wing. "Everybody knows what Brian brings to the game, his leadership, through what he says and what he does. He has a massive impact on the game when he plays.
"But at the same time Keith Earls is an outstanding player. He has serious, serious qualities, he's got great feet. He's going to bring something to the game as well. I'm looking forward to playing alongside Earlsy.
"That intensity that was lacking, I don't think you can put it down to one person. For me it's just a mindset of getting on the pitch and going absolutely ballistic for 80 minutes, just going nuts, leaving everything on the pitch. It's difficult to say that didn't happen just because of Brian."
Italy (v Ireland) -- A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; T Botes, E Gori; M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, A Zanni, R Barbieri, S Parisse. Reps: T D'Apice, F Staibano, A Pavanello, S Favaro, F Semenzato, K Burton, G Canale