Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Brunel: We can cause Wales problems

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has urged his players to keep defensive mistakes to a minimum when they open their RBS 6 Nations campaign against holders Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

The Azzurri head into the 2014 tournament looking to match or even better last year's display, during which they beat France and Ireland.

Brunel recognises Wales as a force to be reckoned with, but backed his team to cause Warren Gatland's men some difficulties.

"Wales are one of the strongest teams in Europe," the Frenchman said. "But I think this Italy side can give interesting responses on Saturday.

"The Welsh potential is high, but we can counter that with efficiency.

"When we faced them in 2012 and 2013, we reached half-time still in the game.

"We then made mistakes that allowed them to extend their lead.

"This time we will try to remain close to them until the end.

"It's obvious that we will go out to the pitch to win, but more than anything I expect from my team important steps in terms of technique and, first and foremost, a defence that returns to the level that we had in last year's edition."

Italy were unable to maintain the high standard of defending for the remainder of the year, especially in summer defeats to South Africa and Samoa.

Moreover, losses to Australia and Argentina followed in the November Tests.

The Azzurri are plagued by injuries and Brunel has decided to give youngsters a chance in his starting XV against the Welsh, with five of their seven three-quarters born after 1990.

Benetton Treviso winger Angelo Esposito will make his Italy debut, while inexperienced Michele Campagnaro, Leonardo Sarto and Tommaso Allan will also start.

"I've chosen a young three-quarters line," Brunel said. "I've focused on the physical condition of the team in the last two weeks.

"There were some players that were not 100 per cent and we've decided to count on those that were in better condition."

Brunel has identified Wales winger George North as the real danger for his side.

"He is a player that has incredible power, speed and technique," he said. "He is not the only danger that the Dragons have.

"Wales is an experienced and powerful side, with players like North and Jamie Roberts that will certainly give our three-quarters a challenging test."

Brunel praised Mauro Bergamasco ahead of the match, with the 34-year-old flanker set to overtake Sergio Lanfranchi as Italy's longest-serving player this weekend.

"Mauro is impressive from a physical standpoint," Brunel said. "He is almost 35 and is still at the top of his level.

"He has several years of rugby ahead of him."

Sergio Parisse, who will earn his 102nd cap on Saturday, will captain the Azzurri after missing the last two games of the 2013 Six Nations through suspension.

Italy have faced Wales 21 times, losing 17 and winning just twice in Rome.

Their best result in Cardiff was an 18-18 draw in 2006.

The Azzurri will wear black armbands in Cardiff in memory of Salvatore Di Padova, a national academy player who died recently in a car crash.


From Belfast Telegraph