As the World Cup comes racing closer, Italy play Japan in a warm-up match, just the fifth time the two countries have met. The match will be played at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena up in North East Italy, at the foot of the Apennines and not far from the Adriatic.
Stadio Dino Manuzzi is the football ground of AC Cesena with a capacity of 23,860.
On the previous four occasions, Italy have always won, twice in Italy and twice in Japan. But in the eyes of the International Rugby Board they are close. Italy are ranked 11th, Japan 12th. As a part of the Six nations Italy would be used to tougher opposition on a regular basis than remote Japan. They get teams from strong rugby countries and go to visit strong rugby countries while Japan are almost entirely combined to the Pacific.
Nick Mallett, Italy's national coach on the brink of ending his stint with Italy, has chosen two new caps in his 22 - 23-year-old hooker Tommaso D'Apice and a 32-year-old South African from Nelspruit who played lock for the Free State Cheetahs before heading for Italy in 2007. Now it seems that he will be heading for the World Cup with Italy. (There are two other South African locks who may be there with him - Quintin Geldenhuys from Klerksdorp and Antonio Dal Fava from Umtata.)
Other fairly new players are wing Giulio Toniolatti (six caps) in his first start, prop Lorenzo Cittadini (four caps) and scrumhalf Edoardo Gori (three caps). Italy has had a scrumhalf problem since the retirement of the great Alessandro Troncon who filled the berth for 14 seasons. But then flyhalf Riccardo Bocchino and wing Tommaso Benvenuti have just six caps each. It is a young side. Bocchino starts at flyhalf for the first time. The centre pairing is a new one with two strong men in Alberto Sgarbi and Matteo Pratichetti.
The 'old men' are itinerant Andrea Lo Cicero with 86 caps and Marco Bortolami Mauro Bergamasco, back from injury, each with 84 and the captain Sergio Parisse with 77.
It's hard to work out if the match is a trial or a warm-up. Perhaps it is both with preference given to the untried rather than those used to Six Nations.
There are no new caps in the Japan side though 23-year-old loose forward Tadasuke Nishihara has only one and 29-year-old New Zealand Murray Williams just two. It's not a young side but also not a multi-capped side. The most capped player is the captain Takashi Kikutani with 42 caps while at 32 New Zealanders Ryan Nicholas and James Arlidge are the oldest.
After this Japan play the USA and then head for New Zealand where there first World Cup match is against France. Kirwan said: “I have named the team for this game and the one against the United States. Everyone wants to play against France so I have to give them the chance to prove themselves.”
2007: Italy won 36-12 in St Vincent
2006: Italy won 52-6 in Tokyo
2004: Italy won 32-18 in Tokyo
1977 Italy won 25-3 in Padua
Prediction: Italy to win by 20 or more.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean (Benetton Treviso), 14 Giulio Toniolatti (Aironi), 13 Alberto Sgarbi (Benetton Treviso), 12 Matteo Pratichetti (Aironi), 11 Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso), 10 Riccardo Bocchino (Prato), 9 Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso), 8 Sergio Parisse (Stade Français), (captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso), 5 Marco Bortolami (Aironi), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (Aironi), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini (Benetton Treviso), 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), 1 Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro)
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice (Aironi), 17 Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), 18 Corniel van Zyl (Benetton Treviso), 19 Paul Derbyshire (Benetton Treviso), 20 Pablo Canavosio (Calvisano), 21 Luciano Orquera (Aironi), 22 Gonzalo Canale (Clermont Auvergne)
Coach: Nick Mallett
Japan: 15 Shaun Webb (Coca Cola West Red Sparks), 14 Kosuke Endo (Toyota Verblitz), 13 Koji Taira (Suntory Sungoliath), 12 Ryan Nicholas (Suntory Sungoliath), 11 Takeisa Usuzuki (Toyota Brave Lupus), 10 James Arlidge (Nottingham), 9 Fumiaki Tanaka (Panasonic Wild Knights), 8 Ryukoliniasi Holani (Panasonic Wild Knights), 7 Michael Leitch (Toshiba Brave Lupus), 6 Takashi Kikutani (Toyota Verblitz) (captain), 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa (Toyota Verblitz), 4 Justin Ives (Panasonic Wild Knights), 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory Sungoliath), 2 Shota Horie (Panasonic Wild Knights), 1 Hisateru Hirashima (Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers)
Replacements: 16 Hiroki Yuhara (Toshiba Brave Lupus), 17 Nozomu Fujita (Honda Heat), 18 Luke Thompson (Kintetsu Liners), 19 Tadasuke Nishihara (Panasonic Wild Knights), 20 Atsushi Hiwasa (Suntory Sungoliath), 21 Alisi Tupuailai (Canon Eagles), 22 Murray Williams (Toyota Industry Shuttles)
Coach: John Kirwan
Date: Saturday, 13 August 2011
Venue: Stadio Dino Manuzzi, Cesena, Italy
Expected weather conditions: Clear with a high of 31°C, dropping to 19°C. Hot, but it's an evening match.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garces (France), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
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