Italy coach Jacques Brunel on Thursday named Quintin Geldenhuys as captain in a much changed side, with respect to the last Six Nations campaign, to take on Scotland in a World Cup warm-up game in Turin on Saturday.
With habitual captain Sergio Parisse sidelined with flu-like symptoms, second row forward Geldenhuys has been handed the captain’s armband with Fiji-born Samuel Vunisa stepping into Parisse’s No. 8 position.
Brunel has caused a minor surprise in the centres, with Tommaso Benvenuti handed his first start in two years to partner Gonzalo Garcia, while Tommaso Allan — a former Scotland under-21 star — taking the fly-half role and Guglielmo Palazzani coming in at scrum half to replace suspended Edoardo Gori.
New Zealand-born Kelly Haimona, Brunel’s preferred option at fly-half last season, has been ruled out of the World Cup after failing to recover in time from a broken arm.
Geldenhuys, who will be partnered in the second row by Zebre teammate Valerio Bernabo — who is making his first Azzurri start in nearly two years — now has the job of inspiring Italy to their second successive win over the Scots following the Azzurri’s 22-19 Six Nations win at Murrayfield earlier this year.
But with Scotland winning the three previous encounters and the last two thanks to last-ditch efforts, Brunel has called for consistency against a side that came close to upsetting Ireland (28-22) in last week’s World Cup warm-up in Dublin.
“In recent seasons all our matches against Scotland have been decided at the death, and I don’t think Saturday’s game will be any different,” said Brunel.
“It will be difficult, it’s our first game of the season and the Scots are coming off a good performance against Ireland – it was a game they came close to winning.
“I think they will try to stop us building on our game, as they have done in the past.”
Elsewhere, Brunel will send out an unprecedented first row trio of Lorenzo Cittadini, Matias Aguero and hooker Davide Giazzon, who will make his third start for Italy.
Veterans Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Marco Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco — who have 398 caps between them — all start on the bench, as will versatile full back Luke McLean.
However most of them, and several other hopefuls, will expect to be part of Brunel’s 31-man World Cup squad when it is named on Monday.
Italy XV to face Scotland in a World Cup warm-up at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico on Saturday (15-1):
Andrea Masi; Leonardo Sarto, Tommaso Benvenuti; Gonzalo Garcia, Giovambattista Venditti; Tommaso Allan, Guglielmo Palazzani; Samuela Vunisa, Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto; Valerio Bernabo, Quintin Geldenhuys; Lorenzo Cittadini, Davide Giazzon, Matias Aguero
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Michele Rizzo, Martin Castrogiovanni, Marco Bortolami, Mauro Bergamasco, Marcello Violi, Carlo Canna, Luke McLean
– Agence France-Presse