Italy and Romania will be without their inspirational captains and No.8s when they face each other at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday, with Sergio Parisse not fit and Mihai Macovei suspended.
Both teams made only two changes for the Pool D third-place decider, for which the reward is a guaranteed berth in the 2019 World Cup.
Macovei was hit by a two-week suspension on Thursday for a dangerous tackle in the 17-15 win against Canada on Tuesday, dealing the Oaks a serious blow to their 2019 hopes.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel opted to leave out Parisse. He returned from injury and played a huge role in a 16-9 loss to Six Nations champion Ireland last weekend in London but, with Italy out of contention for a quarter-finals spot, the 114-test veteran is unavailable again.
“I wasn’t really ready to start the match against Ireland, and it was physically hard (against Ireland), even those 65 minutes, and afterward my calf hurt a lot,” Parisse said.
“I really wanted to do my best against Ireland after all the recovery work I did with Stade Francais in Paris, but at the end I was destroyed.”
He estimates his fitness to be “about 55 per cent for a match which you need to be near 100 per cent for.”
The 32-year-old Parisse would not say whether he will retire from international rugby.
“It is more important to focus on the match against Romania than whether or not this is my last World Cup or whether I will play for Italy again,” he said.
While Brunel left out Parisse through choice, Romania coach Lynn Howells will have to modify his plans in the absence of Macovei, whose two tries and driving runs from the back of the scrum helped Romania overturn a 15-0 deficit against Canada.
But he was cited by independent citing commissioner Yves Thieffine of France for a dangerous high tackle. Macovei denied an act of foul play at his hearing, but judicial officer Simon Thomas of Wales upheld it.
That means Daniel Carpo will have some big shoes to fill when he steps out at Sandy Park on Sunday, while the other change sees Valentin Calafeteanu at scrum-half in place of the injured Florin Surugiu.
Calafeteanu is just one of three players remaining from the squad that faced Italy the last time they met, with the Italians winning 24-18 at the 2007 World Cup. The others are fullback Catalin Fercu, and reserve centre Csaba Gal.
In Macovei’s absence, flanker Valentin Ursache takes over as captain, which he has done once before in an 18-11 loss to Georgia in 2011.
Italy: Luke McLean, Leonardo Sarto, Michele Capagnaro, Tommaso Benvenuti, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Alessandro Zanni, Simone Favaro, Francesco Minto, Josh Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), Lorenzo Cittadini, Andrea Manici, Matias Aguero. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Valerio Bernabo, Samuela Vunisa, Guglielmo Palazzani, Carlo Canna, Enrico Bacchin.
Romania: Catalin Fercu, Madalin Lemnaru, Paula Kinikinilau, Florin Vlaicu, Ionut Botezatu, Michael Wiringi, Valentin Calafeteanu; Daniel Carpo, Viorel Lucaci, Valentin Ursache (captain), Johannes van Heerden, Valentin Poparlan, Paulica Ion, Otar Turashvili, Mihaita Lazar. Reserves: Andrei Radoi, Andrei Ursache, Horatiu Pungea, Marius Antonescu, Stelian Burcea, Tudorel Bratu, Adrian Apostol, Csaba Gal.