Sergio Parisse: Italy deserve to be in Six Nations
Italy captain Sergio Parisse has mounted a fierce defence of the Azzurri's Six Nations status ahead of facing Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
Italy have already been consigned to the wooden spoon after losing all of their games in this season's tournament, while conceding 157 points and 20 tries.
It has inevitably led to the re-emergence of a promotion and relegation debate between the Six Nations and Europe's top Tier 2 countries.
But Parisse said: " Could you imagine teams like Ireland or Scotland or France being last in the tournament one season and being relegated?
"I think Italy do a lot for this tournament. We must remember what has happened in the past.
"I am really respectful for all the nations, countries like Georgia and Romania, who have shown a lot of progress. We really deserve to be here (in the Six Nations) - simple as that.
"When Italy or another team in the Six Nations doesn't win a match, everyone talks about relegation.
"Sometimes, we have won just one match or a couple of times, two matches. Obviously, we are one of the weak teams in the Six Nations, but I think we have won the respect of the other teams.
"It is a difficult moment for us now, so it is normal that everyone talks about Italy being in the Six Nations or not, but at the same time, people must respect us because this team in the past has shown good things.
"This campaign for us has been really difficult, but in no way are we thinking about relegation for the future, concerning Italy or any other team in this tournament."
Italy completed their preparations in the Welsh capital on Friday, with former Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni returning to action after suspension.
The Racing 92 forward received a three-week ban for stamping on Scotland back Duncan Taylor last month, and he features among five changes from the side crushed 58-15 by Ireland last Saturday.
Elsewhere for his final Test match in charge of the Azzurri, head coach Jacques Brunel has called up Perpignan fly-half Tommaso Allan following his recovery from injury, centre Andrea Pratichetti, who replaces an injured Michele Campagnaro, plus locks Quintin Geldenhuys and Valerio Bernabo.
"The backbone of the team is not different from the one that has played the rest of this tournament," Brunel said.
"Wales, similar to Ireland, are a team that has the ability to play with great effectiveness.
"We will not give them time and space as in Dublin. It will be crucial to slow down their game at the breakdown and keep the right attitude for all 80 minutes."
Italy have suffered nine successive defeats against Wales, while last season's Six Nations game between the countries saw Wales run out 61-20 winners in Rome.