Five charges for winless Azzurri
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Italy coach Franco Smith has made five changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s match against Six Nations leaders Wales in Rome.
The Azzurri are searching for their first win in the tournament in six years after stretching their losses to 30 consecutive games against Ireland last time out.
Stephen Varney returns in place of Callum Braley who was a last-minute change two weeks ago after the Gloucester scrumhalf dislocated his finger in the warm-up in Rome.
Wing Mattia Bellini, lock Niccolo Cannone, as well as props Giosue Zilocchi and Danilo Fischetti are the other new faces from the 48-10 hammering at the hands of Andy Farrell’s side.
Wales-born Varney plays alongside Paolo Garbisi with No.8 Michele Lamaro, Sebastian Negri and Johan Meyer completing the back row.
David Sisi plays alongside Cannone, who made his international debut a year ago against Wayne Pivac’s men, in place of Marco Lazzaroni, who starts on the bench after spraining his knee against Ireland.
In the front row, Zilocchi and Fischetti are alongside captain Luca Bigi, with Marco Riccinio and Andrea Lovotti replacements along with hooker Oliviero Fabiani who returns after 18 months.
South African Smith has kept faith with the centre partnership of Ignacio Brex and Carlo Canna for the third consecutive game, after three heavy defeats.
This weekend’s visitors are unbeaten so far after victories over England, Ireland and Scotland claimed the Triple Crown.
“We are ready to continue our journey against a team that aims to win the tournament,” said Smith.
“We’re meeting our goal, to improve our performances to become increasingly competitive match after match. Every week together, staff and players, we work hard to win,” he added.
Treviso flyhalf Tommaso Allan has been made available for his franchise’s Pro14 game with the Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
Luca Sperandio has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a neck issue and prop Cherif Traore has a broken arm.
Italy’s last win in the tournament was against Scotland in Edinburgh in 2015.
They have not won in Rome since beating Ireland in March 2013.
Italy: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Giosue Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Federico Mori, 23 Edoardo Padovani.
Date: Saturday, March 13
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.15 (14.15 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)