Saturday 21 October 2017

Parisse insists Rome victory is possible over 'probably best team' in Europe

Italy captain Sergio Parisse and coach Jacques Brunel pictured at the launch of the 2015 Six Nations at the Hurlingham Club in London. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Italy captain Sergio Parisse and coach Jacques Brunel pictured at the launch of the 2015 Six Nations at the Hurlingham Club in London. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Nick Purewal

Sergio Parisse believes Ireland are "probably the best team" in Europe, but Italy's talisman still maintains that he and his team-mates can cause an upset in Rome on Saturday.

The Azzurri captain missed last year's encounter in the Aviva through injury as a Brian O'Driscoll-inspired Ireland ran amok and cruised to a 46-7 victory on their way to the Six Nations title.

However, Parisse has no such problems this time around and with that humiliating defeat still fresh in his memory, he has demanded a reaction from his team-mates.

"Ireland are probably the best team in the northern hemisphere at the moment," he said. "It's important for us to start the competition well.

"I don't want to bore you with the details, but we had a lot of injury problems and there were lots of problems for our coach Jacques (Brunel) too.

"Last year, the match that had the biggest negative impact for us was probably when we lost to Scotland at home to the last-minute drop-goal.

"But now we are here to fight for the Six Nations and it's a chance to try to change things.

"We are not at the same level as Ireland; we beat them two years ago but last year conceded 40 points in Dublin.

"The fact we're playing them again in the World Cup means the mental point of view will be vital in this game; it will be important to be competitive against them."

From a personal perspective, Parisse is hoping that he can find a "different level" in this year's competition after a back injury plagued him last season - robbing Italy coach Jacques Brunel of his most experienced asset.

The 31-year-old has long been renowned as one of the world's finest No 8s, but has admitted he failed to reach his own lofty standards last year.

Now that the Stade Francais loose-forward has finally beaten niggling back trouble, he expects to carry his recent good form with the French club into his team's tournament opener, and the prospect has heightened home supporters' expectations that his understanding with flanker Alessandro Zanni can help make life difficult the visitors.

"Last season was very difficult from my point of view because of injuries," said Parisse. "All season I played with pain in my back, I had problems and couldn't play at my best level.

"I missed last summer's tour and that gave me the chance to recover properly over five weeks of rest.

"That meant that when I then returned the problem in my back had gone. I've been really, really fit since then; it's allowed me to play to a different level, at one I'm really happy with at my club.

"I'm fit for the championships too, and hopefully I can take that different level into these matches now."

Parisse trained on his own on Monday as he eased past a slight hamstring tweak, but the classy back-rower completed yesterday's full session.

Capped 103 times, the skipper looks sure to lead Italy into battle with fervent hopes that the team can repeat their 2013 heroics when Italy's 22-15 victory over an albeit understrength Ireland cost Declan Kidney his job.

Meanwhile, England have included fly-half Danny Cipriani and No 8 Nick Easter in a 25-man squad retained for Friday's Six Nations opener against Wales.

The pair have experienced moments of controversy during their international careers, but have been earmarked for supporting roles off the bench in Cardiff, with head coach Stuart Lancaster due to name his starting XV this morning.

"Everyone named is fit and ready to go and we are looking forward to finalising our preparations over the next few days," Lancaster said.

Irish Independent

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