The Italy captain, Marco Bortolami, will start the Six Nations Championship con-fident of the Azzurri's ability to make the best teams "sweat", despite the Italian clubs' poor performances in this season's Heineken Cup.
Bortolami, who captains the Guinness Premiership side Gloucester from the second row, having joined the exodus of top Italian players to France and England which has adversely affected his country's ability to compete in Europe, rates last season's Six Nations effort as the best since Italy's induction to the competition in 2000.
The Italians lost four matches in 2006, but drew 18-18 with Wales in Cardiff for their first away point in the tournament. This season, Italy have beaten Canada 41-6 and fought well against Australia, who ran out 25-18 winners, and Argentina, who won 23-16 in Rome.
Bortolami said: "I am really looking forward to this tournament. After the November internationals, in which we turned in some encouraging performances against Australia and Argentina, the squad is feeling confident.
"Most of the physical and technical work is done now, and it is a question of focusing on our mental preparation more than anything. Certainly we still need to improve things, but now we have a lot of faith in ourselves. The most important thing is the fact we can be competitive for the whole 80 minutes in every game. If we have a bit of luck, I'm sure we can make some of the big teams sweat, like we did against Australia."
"I look back on the last tournament as Italy's best and I hope the next one will be even
better for us. As usual it will be hard for us. Every year we go into the Six Nations as underdogs but I have a positive feeling about this year. Things were great in the last tournament after we showed good organisation and finished close on the scoreboard in each game."
Bortolami wants a good return from the Azzurri's visit to Twickenham on the second weekend of the competition.
"Now is the time to win a few games and I'm looking forward to playing against England," he said. "France and Ireland have to be the two favourites for this year's tournament but we can't forget England; they are a bit out of form, but don't forget they are the world champions and they also have in their ranks a few great individual players.
"Those three teams are well balanced and have no real weaknesses. Then there is Wales. They are coming from some bad form last year but they still have some very good players. The Scottish didn't shine in the November Test matches, but they were outstanding in the last Six Nations."Reuse content