Mallet sticks with Italy’s Samoa slayers

Italy coach Nick Mallett has announced his team for the Six Nations opener against reigning champions Ireland at Croke Park, Dublin on Saturday and kept the same starting XV that beat Samoa 24-6 in November, ending a run of 13 straight defeats.

Treviso hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini continues to lead the team in the injury absence of Stade Francais number eight Sergio Parisse.

Flanker Mauro Bergamasco will become only the third Italian player to reach 80 caps when he starts the game on Saturday putting him behind assistant coach Alessandro Troncon (101) and team manager Carlo Checchinato (83).

Prop Salvatore Perugini will also reach a milestone as he will become the only Italian player to appear in every Six Nations tournament since the southern Europeans were first admitted in 2000.

Italy also welcome back veterans, lock Marco Bortolami and centre Andrea Masi to the bench after both players missed the whole November Test series.

Team (15-1):


Luke McLean; Kaine Robertson, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; Craig Gower, Tito Tebaldi; Alessandro Zanni, Mauro Bergamasco, Josh Sole; Quintin Geldenhuys, Carlo Antonio Del Fava; Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), Salvatore Perugini

Replacements: Fabio Ongaro, Matias Aguero, Marco Bortolami, Paul Derbyshire, Simon Piccone, Riccardo Bocchino, Andrea Masi.

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