Mallett gambles on untested partnership for first Italy team

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The Independent Online

The Italy coach, Nick Mallett, has put his faith in experience for Saturday's Six Nations opener against Ireland at Croke Park.

Mallett, who was appointed two months ago, has named most of the team who played in September's World Cup defeat to Scotland that sealed Italy's elimination from the tournament at the pool stage.

The former South Africa coach sprang a surprise at half-back for his first Azzurri XV, selecting the untried partnership of Pietro Travagli and Andrea Masi, who makes his Test debut at fly-half. Travagli is given his first start in three years ahead of Treviso's Simon Picone and Masi is selected after Ramiro Pez was dropped.

The Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni wins his 50th cap, while the Calvisano captain Leonardo Ghiraldini makes his Six Nations debut, having made one previous start, against Portugal in September.

Attention will also focus on how Sergio Parisse handles his first game as captain, as Italy try to build on their best Six Nations showing last year, when they beat Wales and Scotland.

The Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery, meanwhile, has appealed against the eight-week ban for stamping during Munster's defeat by Clermont Auvergne on 13 January that has ruled him out of the Six Nations.

Italy ( v Ireland, Croke Park, Saturday, 2pm): D Bortolussi (Montpellier); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), P Canavosio (Castres); A Masi (Biarritz), P Travagli (Overmach Parma); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), C A Del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: C Festuccia (Racing-Metro), S Perugini (Stade Toulousain), C Nieto (Gloucester), T Reato (Rovigo), A Zanni (Calvisano), A Marcato (Treviso), E Galon (Overmach Parma).

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