Italy’s strength in depth will be tested when they face Canada in the Rugby World Cup on Thursday, as the Azzurri look to start the tournament with back-to-back wins.
The Azzurri won their Pool B opener against Namibia 47-22 on Sunday. Despite Italy winning their first game at a tournament for the first time since 1991, Conor O’Shea was far from satisfied with the performance his side produced.
Only five players who started that match remain in the XV to face Canada, whose victory against Tonga in 2011 is their only win in the last three World Cup campaigns.
Skipper Sergio Parisse is among those rested, with lock Dean Budd captaining the team in his stead. Italy’s other lock, David Sisi, is set to become the first German-born player to feature at a World Cup.
“Dean has twice captained the team,” O’Shea said.
“Sergio wanted to play and that is the same for all the players. Two matches in four days meant we had to use all our squad. He would be ready to play and was magnificent for us against Namibia but I want him at 100 per cent for every match.
“I have confidence in all our players and all our players are worth a place in the team. This is the best team for the match.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 23, 2019
Canada’s preparations for their opening game of the competition have been hit by the news of lower body injuries to wing Taylor Paris and flanker Evan Olmstead.
They will both miss the clash in Fukuoka, but head coach Kingsley Jones is hopeful they will not be on the sideline for long.
“Nothing that’s going to keep them out long term but they’re not quite ready for this one,” he said. “Overall we’re pleased with the combinations we have.”
Little will be expected of Canada in a match Italy likely must win to have any hope of progressing ahead of South Africa, though history suggests this will be a tight encounter, with the Azzurri having won the previous two World Cup meetings between the sides by a margin of just five points.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Italy – Jake Polledri
Polledri earns a starting berth in the back row after an outstanding performance against Namibia. Despite coming off the bench, only four players gained more metres than his 45. He beat more defenders than anyone else (6) and also scored a try.
Canada – DTH van der Merwe
Experienced wing Van der Merwe scored a try in each of Canada’s four pool stage matches in 2015. Should he cross against Italy, he will join Jonah Lomu and Alan Whetton as just the third player to score a try in five consecutive World Cup matches.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Canada won two of their first three Tests against Italy from 1983 to 2000; however, they have gone on to lose all six of their encounters since, of which four have been decided by single-figure margins.
– Italy have won 11 of their previous 13 Rugby World Cup matches against Tier 2 opposition (L2) including their last nine on the bounce; they have not lost such a fixture since going down by three points against Tonga in the 1999 edition (28-25)
– Canada come into this competition on the back of a five-game losing streak in Test rugby; the last time they endured a longer streak of defeats was a seven-game stretch from November 2014 to August 2015.
– Only England’s Owen Farrell has scored more points (106 – 1 try, 28 conversions, 15 penalties) than Italy’s Tommaso Alan (66 – 3 tries, 15 con, 7 pen) amongst Tier 1 players in 2019.
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