Griffen steps up as Mauro goes back to basics

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The Independent Online

He ain't heavy, he's... Mauro Bergamasco, the great flank-forward who was made to look like the fall guy when he was switched to scrum-half against England last week. Mirco Bergamasco, who salvaged a degree of family pride by scoring Italy's only try at Twickenham, has mounted a moving defence of his brother.

"All the blame was put on him and the media reaction was exaggerated," Mirco said. "The fault was down to all the team. The tries we gave away were not Mauro's fault. We have analysed the game and the performance was not down to just one player but all of us. You will see a different Italy. We can't play any worse than we did against England. It's the team that makes mistakes and it's the team that lost. I know Mauro and I know his character. It's normal that he was angry. He wanted to give 100 per cent. We all have to take responsibility."

Nick Mallett, Italy's coach, has held his hands up. His experiment in selecting Mauro at No 9 was like something out of Frankenstein's laboratory, and it blew up in the faces of the Azzurri.

It doesn't get any easier for Italy, who today face a confident Ireland in Rome. The Irish, after their resounding 30-21 victory over France at Croke Park, have the rare luxury, in professional rugby, of naming an unchanged team, but Mallett has made five changes, some of them enforced. The first would have been to restore Mauro to his rightful position in the back row.

With three scrum-halves injured, Mallett has recalled the 33-year-old, New Zealand-born Paul Griffen, who last played for his adopted country against Portugal in the 2007 World Cup. At least he's a scrum-half, and he will team up with his Calvisano colleague Luke McLean, who gave a good account of himself after replacing the unfortunate Andrea Marcato. On the receiving end of Mauro's erratic service, Marcato was taking the ball either in the gutter or on stilts. Either way, he got clobbered and has a neck injury.

An even bigger blow is the loss of the Gloucester lock Marco Bortolami, who has a damaged knee. His place is taken by Tommaso Reato of Rovigo. Italy can ill afford to lose anybody, let alone their main line-out man.

Ireland have never lost to Italy in the Six Nations – though it was only 16-11 in Dublin last season – and are hardly likely to do so now. Although Gordon D'Arcy scored a try in his first Test since breaking an arm in the opening match of last year's championship, Ireland are sticking by Paddy Wallace to partner Brian O'Driscoll at centre.

D'Arcy, who came on as a replacement in the 63rd minute and scored three minutes later, said: "Declan Kidney put a lot on the line by selecting me in the 22 because I haven't played much rugby. It's all about chances and the need to take them when they arise. There are no guarantees. Paddy played fantastically until he got a knock on the head. Whatever happens, I'm happy with my progress after a long injury." Of his touchdown he said: "It was a moment of absolute elation."

O'Driscoll, the captain, wins his 90th cap – but for injuries it would be past 100 – and is still one behind the prop John Hayes, who equals the record of Malcolm O'Kelly, some feat for a playerwho started at the age of 18 with Bruff in Limerick. O'Kelly is a replacement, so he could add to his 91 caps.

Teams at Stadio Flaminio

Italy: A Masi; K Robertson, G Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, M Pratichetti; L McLean, P Griffen; S Perugini, F Ongaro, M Castrogiovanni, S Dellape, T Reato, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), Mauro Bergamasco. Replacements: C Festuccia, C Nieto, C Del Fava, J Sole, G Toniolatti, G Garcia, A Bacchetti.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace, L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, J Heaslip, D Wallace. Replacements: R Best, T Court, M O'Kelly, D Leamy, P Stringer, G D'Arcy, G Murphy.

Referee: C White (England); Kick-off: 2.30pm

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