Italy vs Japan World Cup warm up preview

Italy coach Nick Mallett has wasted no time in trying to solve his fly-half problems by giving youngster Riccardo Bocchino the opportunity to earn the number 10 shirt against Japan on Saturday.

South African Mallett has never hidden his need to find a half-back pairing capable of taking Italy to the next step in terms of quality but his search has often seemed in vain during his four years at the helm.

He seemed to have found a stop-gap solution to his fly-half conundrum by reinventing former Australian rugby league international Craig Gower as a union number 10 after he qualified to play for the Azzurri through marriage.

But Gower was injured for the Six Nations earlier this year and has now opted to move back to league with Harlequins.

It means that Mallett, who was counting on Gower in New Zealand, has had to all but start from scratch.

And he has decided to give 23-year-old Bocchino his first start for his country following six appearances off the bench.

It is a brave decision having not even used Bocchino during the Six Nations in which Kris Burton and Luciano Orquera shared play-making duties.

Burton has not even made Mallett’s 30-man World Cup squad with Bocchino preferred.

But the Aironi player is determined to grasp this opportunity with both hands.

“I didn’t expect to start, it’s hugely emotional, an infinite pleasure,” he said.

“I know it will be a very demanding exam and I hope to do well.

“The coach has asked me to calmly manage the different phases of the game, to support the forwards and not go over the top with my individual initiatives.

“For a young Italian it’s always a big responsibility to wear the number 10 but I’m happy to assume it.

“I’ll take onto the pitch all the joy and enthusiasm that goes with playing fly-half for my country.

“The last two seasons have been difficult for me but I want to show something on Saturday night.”

This is not the first time that Mallett has taken such a risk as he blooded young scrum-half Edoardo Gori in a November test against Australia.

Gori impressed and in that one showing did enough to earn the number nine shirt permanently, only to dislocate his shoulder in Italy’s opening Six nations match against Ireland and miss the rest of the tournament.

The 21-year-old comes back into the side against Japan to form part of a very youthful back-line that also includes 20-year-old Tommaso Benvenuti on the left-wing.

Benvenuti, one of four backs with a mere 20 caps between them in the starting line-up, was another young player Mallett threw in at the deep end in November for his debut against Argentina.

While Mallett has gone for youth in his backline, he has packed his forwards with experience.

Flanker Mauro Bergamasco makes his comeback from a knee injury to reform Italy’s first-choice back-row alongside captain Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni.

Veteran Marco Bortolami also comes in at lock after missing the Six Nations while Andrea Lo Cicero lines up at prop.

Lo Cicero, Bergamasco and Bortolami are the three most capped Italian players behind the now retired former scrum-half Alessandro Troncon.

Although Japan have lost all four previous tests against Italy, they will have a slight edge in that their coach, former All Black John Kirwan used to coach Italy.

He also works for Italian TV as an expert analyser for Italy matches during the Six Nations and knows the team well.

Italy will move on to Edinburgh to play Scotland next week in their last friendly before heading out to New Zealand.

Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)

Teams (15-1):


Luke McLean (Treviso); Giulio Toniolatti (Aironi), Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso), Matteo Pratichetti (Aironi), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso); Riccardo Bocchino (Cavalieri

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