Rugby World Cup: Sergio Parisse recovery boosts Italy but it will not be enough for Ireland challenge
The prayers offered up by Italy coach Jacques Brunel this week appear to have done the trick. Sergio Parisse has reportedly recovered from injury and is in line to make his first appearance of this World Cup against Ireland on Sunday.
The travelling Azzurri in London are dancing and rejoicing in the streets.
Without Parisse, Italy are a severely weakened proposition. At 32, he remains the best No 8 in world rugby and his influence on the squad is unquantifiable.
But even with Parisse back fit, it is difficult to see Italy running Ireland close at the Olympic Stadium. The ageing profile of the Italian squad and the lack of viable options in key positions has been a problem for Brunel for some time now.
Italy have remained stagnant in their development over the last 10 years. Save for the odd new face here and there, the majority of the squad has remained the same. Castrogiovanni, Bortolami, Ghiraldini, Bergamasco, Zanni, Garcia, McLean, Masi, Venditti and Parisse have been the mainstays of the starting XV for the guts of a decade.
It is incredible to think that, in the 12 years since Diego Dominguez's last international, Italy have failed to come up with a single decent fly half.
The list of failures in the Azzuri 10 jersey since Domniguez's retirement is as long as my arm; each one as mediocre and inadequate as the next. Luciano Orquera, Chris Burton, Luke McLean, Craig Gower and Riccardo Bocchino have all had their chances at various stages, all without success.
Brunel's most recent brainwave, 17 stone New Zealand native Kelly Haimona, suffered an injury before the World Cup and was subsequently withdrawn. Italy fans can thank their blessings for that. Haimona looked more like a prop forward than a fly half.
On Sunday, the nervy and inconsistent Tomasso Allan is likely to take the reins. Allan is plying his trade in the Pro-D2 French second division with Perpignan and is struggling to maintain a starting position there.
The 22-year-old appears to have the big-game temperament of a frightened lamb and is as likely to kick the ball through the Queen's bedroom window as between the posts at the Olympic Stadium. As the old Italian mobsters used to say: Forget about it!
The lack of young talent coming through to the senior team is a damning indictment of Brunel's conservative selection policy.
An Irish rout on Sunday will do nothing for Joe Schmidt's squad in the long run. It is all well and good breezing past Canada and Romania, but Ireland need a meaningful test to gauge their form ahead of France and the quarter-finals.
Schmidt is lucky that he doesn't have a litany of injuries to contend with, but equally, it is far from ideal that Ireland have run riot against inferior opposition in their first two games.
One hopes that Italy will at least put up a decent challenge.