Furno fired up as Italians seek to topple the champions
ITALIAN lock Josh Furno says his side are "fired up" ahead of tomorrow's Six Nations opener after Jacques Brunel confirmed a starting line-up that is, on paper at least, vastly more experienced than his opponents'.
His team, led again by the totemic Sergio Parisse, who missed the Dublin drubbing last year, boasts a total of 660 caps and shows only two changes from the line-up that ended the autumn campaign with a 22-6 defeat at the hands of South Africa.
George Fabio Biagi comes into the second-row alongside Furno, replacing the injured Quintin Geldenhuys, while Francesco Minto replaces Samuela Vunisa at openside flanker.
That means the half-back partnership between Kelly Haimona and Edoardo Gori remains in place after an impressive end to last year when the Azzurri beat Samoa and suffered a narrow defeat against Argentina.
"We are really impatient to start," Newcastle Falcons' Furno said. "The Six Nations is the most important event in our season and we can't wait to get started. We have been waiting a whole year for the Six Nations and we are so determined to make amends for last year's tournament.
"I believe we can do well against Ireland. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We have worked hard and are really fired up. Ireland are a difficult opponent but we have a good team too. In the autumn Tests, besides the game against South Africa, we always had 90pc of possession."
Brunel admits the challenge is a difficult one but he is boosted by knowledge of his country's traditional strength at the beginning of campaigns; ten times in 15 years, their opening result has superseded everything that has followed.
They may be favourites to repeat last year's wooden spoon but they are more than capable of wielding the weapon on the opening weekend, for they have never won in week two, nor in successive weeks.
Eleven wins in 75 games is a pitiful return and even Parisse has suggested that Ireland would win 98 games out of 100 against his side; prior to the shock in the last fixture here, Ireland had won 17 in a row before normal service was resumed last year.
It is not the easiest challenge," concedes Brunel. "Ireland are the tournament favourites, but two years ago we beat them and we hope to have the right attitude this time. And this is the start of a tournament, so anything can happen.
"Two years ago we dominated the game, last year it was impossible to avoid their domination when all the statistics were so negative."
Italy (v Ireland) - A Masi; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, L Morisi, L McLean; K Haimona, E Gori; S Parisse (capt), F Minto, A Zanni, J Furno, G Biagi, M Castrogiovanni, L Ghiraldini, M Aguero. Reps: A Manici, A De Marchi, D Chistolini, M Fuser, M Barbini, G Palazzani, T Allan, G Venditti.