Italy sweating over Parisse fitness as they look to save sinking ship
When Jacques Brunel was appointed Italy coach in 2011, he was expected to bring a renewed sense of belief to a sport that has always played second fiddle to soccer.
It was the beginning of a World Cup cycle, which gave the former French assistant coach ample opportunity to develop and prepare his squad for this tournament.
Four years on and two games into the World Cup, it's difficult to see what improvements he has made to a squad that is bereft of quality.
Granted Sergio Parisse's absence would be felt by most teams in the competition let alone one that is already short on world-class players but the fact remains that Italy have been over-reliant on their talismanic skipper for years.
Italy have struggled in their opening two games and although they managed to eke out a win against Canada at the weekend, they were rudderless and unimpressive.
Having undergone surgery on his leg earlier this month, Parisse has since been recuperating in Paris, presumably under the watch of Stade Francais. He linked up with the Italy squad yesterday, but it remains to be seen if he will be fit to return against Ireland on Sunday.
In the immediate aftermath to Ireland's win over Romania, the focus switched to Italy and Joe Schmidt and several of his players insisted that Parisse will 'galvanise' his side.
If he recovers in time, there is no doubt that his influence will boost the Italians but they are still lacking in firepower - particularity in the backline.
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Canada should have caused the latest in a growing list of upsets but they lacked that crucial killer instinct when it mattered most. Ireland won't.
"If we play the same as we did today then we will go 30 points down against Ireland, we know that. If we don't have precision it will not be a contest," Brunel warned after Saturday's poor display.
Italy recently dropped to 15th in the rankings (yesterday they climbed one place to 14th), which is their worst ever position.
That shouldn't come as a surprise, though. The Italian club game has been in disarray for years and it shows no signs of improving any time soon.
Brunel will step down after the World Cup and he is in serious danger of leaving a tarnished legacy behind him.
Former player Mirco Bergamasco, who won 89 caps for Italy , claimed that the 61-year old has caused a split in the dressing-room and judging by their fractured displays of late, it could well be true.
Rob Kearney recently revealed that Schmidt had been playing tapes of the 2007 near-disasters against Namibia and Georgia and perhaps this week in Guilford, he will subtly remind them of the 2013 disaster in Rome.
Schmidt, of course, only took over as Ireland coach later that year but it would serve as a reminder about what can happen against the Italians if you take your eye off the ball. However, there is no sense of that happening under the Kiwi's watch.
Mauro Bergamasco (36), older brother of Mirco, came off the bench against Canada to play at his fifth World Cup, which equalled the all time record - a remarkable achievement but one that illustrates the lack of development in the Italian system.
The hopes of a nation look to hinge on the fitness of Parisse but not even the great man can save this sinking ship.