50 up for three Italians against Wales

Three players will reach a half century of caps for Italy when they face Wales in a Six Nations match in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Nick Mallett (pictured) made two injury-enforced changes on Wednesday to the side that narrowly went down 23-19 at home to England 10 days ago but the South African also sprang a couple of surprises in his starting line-up.

Simon Picone replaced Pietro Travagli at scrum-half while Salvatore Perugini was drafted in at prop instead of Andrea Lo Cicero.

Injuries had also deprived Mallett of David Bortolussi at full-back, with fly-half Andrea Marcato replacing him while Alberto Sgarbi comes in for injured New Zealand-born winger Kaine Robertson.

The changes mean that Perugini, Mirco Bergamasco and Santiago Dellape will all celebrate their 50th cap in Cardiff.

“For us reaching 50 caps for Italy is a very important milestone,” said Perugini.

“It shows that you have had a substantial career in the Italy team and it also gives you a certain seniority in the squad.

“Now I just hope to celebrate the 50 caps with a victory over Wales.” Captain Sergio Parisse also reached his 50 caps in the last match against England while prop Martin Castrogiovanni earned that number in Italy’s first match of the Six Nations against Ireland in Dublin, another narrow 16-11 defeat.

Aside from those achievements, Italy have problems, particularly in the back line.

Already fly-half Andrea Masi is just starting to learn his trade as he is normally a centre, while Marcato is being asked to play at full-back despite usually being a fly-half.

At scrum-half Italy are short of experience following Alessandro Troncon’s retirement with Picone, who has 12 caps, preferred to Travgli, who played against Ireland and England but with only two starts for his country is short of top level experience.

“From the beginning I thought that Simon would be the scrum-half who would take over from Troncon but because of his injury he was behind physically so we kept him behind for two weeks,” explained Mallett.

“Pietro Travagli has improved a lot. Against Ireland I was happy with his performance but against England some of his service was not up to standard.” Mallett also defended his decision to stick with Masi at fly-half, where he played in the previous two matches, while putting a fly-half in at full-back.

“What’s important to me is to continue improving Masi at fly-half because he has the qualities to be a very good fly-half.

“Not that Marcato hasn’t but to play Masi for two games at fly-half and then change his position would be stupid.

“With Marcato it’s the same thing that I’ve asked Masi to do. Some players we have asked to play out of position to help out Italy and just like Masi I hope Marcato will do a good job for us.” Italy have another worry over the returning Marco Bortolami, the Gloucester lock and captain.

He missed the first two Six Nations matches with a fractured cheekbone but has been included on the bench against Wales, however Mallett is not sure he will be fit.

“I hope he will be on the bench but he has a problem with a neck spasm and we are checking on him.”

Italy (15-1)
Andrea Marcato; Alberto Sgarbi, Gonzalo Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, Ezio Galon; Andrea Masi, Simon Picone; Sergio Parisse (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Josh Sole; Carlo Antonio Del Fava, Santiago Dellape; Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Salvatore Perugini
Replacements: Carlo Festuccia, Andrea Lo Cicero, Marco Bortolami, Alessandro Zanni, Pietro Travagli, Paolo Buso, Enrico Patrizio


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