Italy name four uncapped players for Six Nations

Head coach Jacques Brunel names 30-man squad to face Ireland and England in the first two rounds of the tournament

By Gareth Llewellyn

Jacques Brunel has named four uncapped players in his 30-man Italy squad for the first two rounds of the Six Nations

Zebre’s 22-year-old centre Giulio Bisegni and 23-year-old wing Michele Visentin (pictured) are included along with Benetton Treviso utility-back Simone Ragusi, and Calivsano scrum-half Marcello Violi.

The tournament is the last real opportunity to test some young people who are proving to have interesting qualities

Jacques Brunel

The Azzurri will assemble in Rome from 25-28th January ahead of their opening match against reigning champions Ireland on Saturday 7 February at the Stadio Olimpico, before facing England at Twickenham a week later.

Brunel has kept many of the players from the autumn internationals with flanker Mauro Bergamasco and wing Giovambattista Venditti returning, with Sergio Parisse continuing as captain.

“The tournament is the last real opportunity to test some young people who are proving to have interesting qualities in Guinness PRO12 or, as in the case of Violi, at the top of the Italian top division,” Brunel said.

“For them it is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate their worth in the year of the Rugby World Cup.

“Mauro Bergamasco and Venditti, who recently returned from injury, are two athletes backed by a solid international experience that will be of great use to the group in the difficult weeks ahead of us.”

Treviso’s Ragusi had been called up for the November Tests against Samoa, Argentina and South Africa, but was an unused squad member.

The squad also features six England-based players, including Leicester Tigers forwards Leonardo Ghiraldini and Robert Barbieri, as well as Sale Sharks duo Alberto de Marchi and Luke McLean.

Violi, who is the only player called up from Italy’s Eccellenza (National Premiership), came off the bench for Zebre as a permit player at the Scarlets in November.

Zebre’s New Zealand-born outside-half Kelly Haimona, who made his debut in Italy’s 24-13 win over Samoa and scored 35 of Italy’s 48 points from the three matches, gets another chance to impress if, as expected, he starts ahead of Perpignan’s Tomasso Allan, who is included ahead of the more experienced Luciano Orquera.

The Samoa in Ascoli Piceno ended Italy’s nine-game losing streak, which stretched back 12 months, but they lost their next two matches to Argentina and South Africa, and are expected to face another tough Six Nations.

Forwards (16):

Matias Aguero (Zebre Rugby), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Alberto De Marchi (Sale Sharks); Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester Tigers), Andrea Manici (Zebre); George Fabio Biagi (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre), Joshua Furno (Newcastle Falcons), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre); Robert Julian Barbieri (Leicester), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre), Simone Favaro (Benetton Treviso), Francesco Minto (Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, captain), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso).

Backs (14):

Edoardo Gori (Treviso), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Marcello Violi (Calvisano); Outhalves: Tommaso Allan (Perpignan); Kelly Haimona (Zebre); Giulio Bisegni (Zebre), Michele Campagnaro (Treviso), Andrea Masi (Wasps), Luke McLean (Sale), Luca Morisi (Treviso), Simone Ragusi (Treviso), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre), Giovambattista Venditti (Zebre), Michele Visentin (Zebre).

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