Bergamasco is surprise choice at scrum-half

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The Independent Online

Mauro Bergamasco, one of the half-dozen finest players ever produced by Italy, has been testing himself against England for a decade now, and has never gone closer to winning than on his debut international in Huddersfield, of all places, where the Azzurri might have beaten their hosts in a World Cup qualifying match but for the referee.

He thought he had seen and experienced pretty much everything the now annual fixture between the two nations had to offer. Until yesterday, that is.

The 29-year-old flanker from Padua, who now plays his club rugby with the glitzy Parisian side Stade Français, learned that he would be shifted out of position for Saturday's opening Six Nations game at Twickenham – not to the wing, where he has played a little Test rugby down the years, but to scrum-half, where he has not played at all.

Nick Mallett, the head coach, said he had no choice in light of injuries to Pablo Canavosio, Simon Picone and Pietro Travagli, but it is a dramatic piece of selection all the same. "This is not ideal," admitted Mallett, revealing a talent for profound understatement, "but it is my choice and I take full responsibility.

"He will be under a lot of pressure, but he has no fear of this type of game, the whole team is behind him and it is something I want to try. I believe Mauro will make more tackles from this position than if I'd picked him in the back row."

Mallett had less of an issue with his front-row combination once Martin Castrogiovanni, the man with a name too long for the shirt on his back when he plays Premiership rugby for Leicester, declared himself fit and ready for international action after a long run of injury hassle. "Although I am not yet in the best form to play at the highest level, I will give everything I have," said the Argentina-born prop, who will be partnered by the powerful Salvatore Perugini, with Carlos Nieto on the bench. "If I can last 40 or 50 minutes, it will be good."

Only five of Mallett's starting team play in Italy, a statistic that supports his argument for the establishment of two "super clubs", geared towards playing Heineken Cup rugby and staffed entirely by home-based professionals. Of the 10 exiles in the side, seven play in the French Top 14 tournament and three – Castrogiovanni, the Saracens hooker Fabio Ongaro and the Gloucester lock Marco Bortolami – in the Guinness Premiership.

Meanwhile, England were still waiting for a final fitness bulletin on the scrum-half Danny Care, who hurt his ankle in training on Tuesday. Harry Ellis of Leicester remained on stand-by.

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