Dec’s tops: Italy coach Mallett
Italy coach Nick Mallett believes Ireland have "improved considerably" under Declan Kidney and says his team will have to play the perfect game if they are to have any chance in Sunday's Six Nations clash in Rome.
Mallett has made eight changes to the side that crashed 36-11 against England at Twickenham, with Mauro Bergamasco unsurprisingly returned to his favoured openside role after a disastrous outing at scrum-half last weekend.
Injuries to fly-half Andrea Marcato and second-row Marco Bortolami forced Mallett's hand but the South African was always going to shake things up and has altered every section of the team bar the front row.
Luke McLean and Paul Griffen form a southern hemisphere-honed half-back partnership, while Alessandro Zanni comes into the back row for Josh Sole.
Mirko, the younger Bergamasco, switches from wing to outside-centre in place of Gonzalo Garcia, with Matteo Pratichetti selected on the wing. Bortolami's place in the second row is taken by Tommaso Reato, with Ulster's Carlo Del Fava named among the replacements.
Mallett is a coach with a proven pedigree, once leading South Africa on a record 17-match winning streak, but has had a tough week trying to re-establish morale in the Italian camp after their harrowing English experience.
And he believes Ireland are a far tougher proposition under Kidney than they were last year, when Italy ran the Irish to 16-11 at Croke Park.
"Our opponents are coming from an important home win against France," said Mallett.
"They had not achieved such a result in the tournament since 2003.
“I believe that in the last year with Declan Kidney as coach, they have improved considerably.
"I think when they play with their hand, they are more dangerous than England and if we want to clinch some points, we will need to play a perfect game.
“This week we have worked hard. The atmosphere is good and I have had the players' total attention.
"Our wish to play a great game against Ireland and give our fans an afternoon to remember is there."
Mallett has acknowledged he got the scrum-half call badly wrong last weekend and has put his faith in Griffen bringing stability to the role in his first international outing since the 2007 World Cup.
"Griffen represents the best choice considering our current situation," said Mallett, who has had to cope with a spate of scrum-half injuries going into the tournament.
"Mauro Bergamasco returns to the third line and I believe that we can expect a great game from him.
"With Marco Bortolami unavailable, I believe that Tommaso Reato can offer more security than Carlo Antonio Del Fava, who has played little of late due to injury."
ITALY: A Masi; K Robertson, G Canale , Mirco Bergamasco, M Pratichetti; L Mclean, P Griffen; S Parisse (c), Mauro Bergamasco, A Zanni, T Reato, S Dellape, M Castrogiovanni, F Ongaro, S Perugini, Reps: C Festuccia, C Nieto, CA Del Fava, J Sole, G Toniolatti, G Garcia, A Bacchetti