Italy full of confidence against England
Updated: February 10, 2012, 10:43
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ROME(AP) Despite never having beaten England and having lost heavily in its Six Nations opener against France last week, Italy heads into Saturday's match against the defending champion believing it can produce a major upset.
Italy stunned France in Rome last year and captain Sergio Parisse knows a similar result at the Stadio Olimpico against England would send shockwaves through the sport.
"We're confident for sure,'' Parisse said. "I think everyone thinks we can win against England but it's going to be very difficult to get an historic result but obviously me and the whole team want this result to repay our supporters and everyone there.
"We know that tomorrow we are under huge pressure and have a huge responsibility.''
Italy will be playing at the Stadio Olimpico for the first time, spurred on by a sellout crowd of 72,000. It usually plays at the 32,000-seater Stadio Flaminio.
England has won all 17 tests against Italy and will be the overwhelming favorite to comfortably defeat a team which is traditionally the weakest of the tournament.
However, Italy played well despite losing 30-12 to France last weekend, and managed to keep the scoreline close for an hour, while England narrowly beat Scotland 13-6 in an error-strewn encounter.
There is a real feeling of belief in the Italian capital and Parisse has urged fans not to be overly confident.
"We have a big responsibility tomorrow because it's the first time we're playing in front of so many here in Rome,'' he said. "A lot of people think that because we're playing at the Olimpico in front of so many people that we must win, but England are one of the strongest teams and it will be very difficult.
"It would be a very important result for us if we win. Beating France at home was a boost for us and the whole of rugby in Italy. No one imagined we could do it. Everyone talked about it as a difficult game but no one talked about it as a game we could win. It's different this year, everyone believes that we can win, but it won't be easy.''
England captain Chris Robshaw says his side has no fears about the fiery atmosphere that awaits, and is confident they will be up to the task of dealing with a passionate Italian side.
"We're coming to the heart of their homeland and Italy are getting better and better; they showed against France last year and this week what they can do,'' Robshaw said. "We know how passionate they are, especially at home. They're in a new stadium and they want to prove to their fans they are an international force. We're going to have to front up here; it's about focusing on ourselves and going toe to toe in the first five minutes.
"A week is a long time in international rugby. We know we might have got lucky last week (against Scotland) but you have to take your luck and I think it's important that we got the win last week and then went away to work on what we did wrong.''
England's margin of victory in Rome has been decreasing steadily and has been down to just four points in their last two encounters.
Italy will mark a couple of milestones, this being coach Jacques Brunel's home debut after he replaced Nick Mallett at the end of the World Cup, and a 37th test as captain for Sergio Parisse, tying the national record of Massimo Giovanelli and Marco Bortolami.
"Nick Mallett gave me this responsibility and I've always tried to do it to my best,'' Parisse said. "I don't think much about the record, for me it's just important to have the respect of my teammates.
"It's a huge honor and I hope to do well in the next few years as captain.''
Prop Martin Castrogiovanni, based in England since 2006, will face some of his Leicester clubmates again and he claims he has not placed a bet on the outcome with them.
"Apart from the weather I'm very happy there and I'll stay there until they let me go,'' Castrogiovanni said. "To play against England at the Olimpico is something special for me.
"I haven't bet on the result because when I've done so before it hasn't turned out so well for me. In any case, even if I won they wouldn't pay up because some of them are very tight!''
Brunel has largely kept faith with the same side which lost to France.
Bortolami replaces Cornelius van Zyl as Quintin Geldenhuys' partner in the second row, and will pick up his 90th cap, while Gonzalo Canale was brought out of the reserves to inside center in place of Alberto Sgarbi for his 74th cap.
Italy: Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Gonzalo Canale, Luke McLean, Kristopher Burton, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (captain), Robert Barbieri, Alessandro Zannni, Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero. Reserves: Tommaso D'Apice, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Mauro Bergamasco, Fabio Semenzato, Tobias Botes, Luca Morisi.
England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, David Strettle, Charlie Hodgson, Ben Youngs; Phil Dowson, Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Croft, Tom Palmer, Mauritz Botha, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero. Reserves: Rob Webber, Matt Stevens, Geoff Parling, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Jordan Turner-Hall, Mike Brown.