Parisse returns to captain Italy against Ireland

No. 8 Sergio Parisse is back to captain Italy against England in the Six Nations on Sunday after his suspension for insulting a referee was reduced on appeal.

Parisse’s return was among eight changes by coach Jacques Brunel on Friday after the 26-9 home loss to Wales two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, England handed out a first start to Tonga-born prop Mako Vunipola, one of five changes to the tournament leader’s run-on side for the match at Twickenham.

Parisse missed the Wales game, and his ban issued by the French Top 14 extended to the end of the tournament. But thanks to a successful appeal on Wednesday, Italy’s talismanic skipper was restored for a match in which hardly anyone gives the visitors a chance. Italy has never beaten England.

Brunel made five changes to the pack. Loosehead prop Andrea Lo Cicero, who tied Italy’s caps record against Wales, was dropped to the bench in favor of Alberto De Marchi, the backup who will make his first start since June.

Australia-born Joshua Furno and South Africa-born Quintin Geldenhuys make up a new lock formation, and experienced flanker Robert Barbieri returns from injury for his first test since the autumn series.

Luciano Orquera was back at flyhalf, and Gonzalo Garcia makes his first start since the World Cup at No. 12, pushing Gonzalo Canale to outside center.

Vunipola, who has made an impressive impact off the bench during the November tests and opening three matches of the Six Nations, was brought in as the replacement for Joe Marler at loosehead.

England’s other changes from the 23-13 win over France saw Toby Flood and Danny Care come in as the halves in place of the injured Owen Farrell and the rested Ben Youngs, whose brother Tom Youngs ousted Dylan Hartley at hooker.

James Haskell reclaimed the No. 6 shirt from Courtney Lawes.

Flanker Tom Croft was named on the bench and is set to make his first appearance for England since sustaining a potentially career-threatening neck injury 11 months ago.

“We were very happy with the way we finished the France game,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said.

“The impact the replacements made shows that we have competition for places across the board and we have had to make some tight calls.”

Farrell has been one of England’s key players in this tournament because of his goalkicking and organizational skills in defense, but he has been nursing a thigh problem since coming off with the injury in the second half of the France game on Feb. 24.

While it is likely to be a brief stay in the No. 10 shirt for Flood, Care will hope a strong performance against the Azzurri allows him to stay at scrumhalf for the likely title-defining match against Wales next weekend in Cardiff.

Care has been in great form for club side Harlequins in recent months and could be considered unlucky to have lost his England place to Youngs.

England is on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003 after wins against Scotland, Ireland and the French and shouldn’t have any problems dealing with Italy, which is coming off back-to-back losses to Scotland and Wales. Italy has never beaten England.

“Italy will be highly motivated for this game and we will have to perform for the full 80 minutes,” Lancaster said.

“I am sure those starting will seize their chance and the bench will also have a significant part to play as the game goes on.”


England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown, Toby Flood, Danny Care; Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Wood, James Haskell, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola.

Replacements : Dylan Hartley, David Wilson, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees.

Italy: Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, L

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