Four debutants for Italy in Six Nations

An Italy team depleted by injuries will roll out four uncapped players against France in the Six Nations opener on Saturday.

Mogliano back David Odiete, Padova wing Mattia Bellini, Zebre prop Andrea Lovotti, and Benetton Treviso hooker Ornel Gega were given starting debuts by coach Jacques Brunel on Thursday.

Another two uncapped players were on the bench for the match at Stade de France: Treviso prop Matteo Zanusso and Zebre’s South African-born back-rower Andries van Schalkwyk.

Italy has 10 regulars sidelined by injuries, including Andrea Masi, Tommaso Allan, Simone Favaro, Josh Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys, Michele Rizzo, Luca Morisi, and Andrea Manici.

However, long-serving No.8 Sergio Parisse, who had an injury-ravaged Rugby World Cup, was back as captain, and New Zealand-born centre Kelly Haimona returns after breaking his arm during Italy’s final Six Nations game last year, forcing him to miss the World Cup.

Haimona was on the bench but Parisse lines up with fellow veteran Alessandro Zanni and Francesco Minto in an expert back row.

Locks George Biagi and Marco Fuser will play together for the first time. It is also a first-time partnership for Edoardo Gori and Carlo Canna, who is starting for the first time at flyhalf.

Italy finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations, above Scotland. It failed to make it to the knockout stage of the World Cup, finishing third in its group, behind Ireland and France.

Italy: David Odiete, Leonardo Sarto, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Mattia Bellini, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (captain), Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto, Marco Fuser, George Fabio Biagi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Ornel Gega, Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Matteo Zanusso, Martin Castrogiovanni, Valerio Bernabo, Andries van Schalkwyk, Guglielmo Palazzani, Kelly Haimona, Luke McLean.

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