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The two evenly matched sides will go head to head in the first international to be held at the Stadio Giovanni Zini in scenic Cremona. Who will come away victorious?
Eight times previously the two teams have squared off, with four wins apiece and the aggregate scoring nearly dead even as well. Fiji have lost the last three times that they’ve been in Italia, though they won handsomely in L’Aquila in 1999 as part of their World Cup preparations. According to the IRB rankings Italy are favourites but only by the slimmest of margins.
Captain Sergio Parisse and long-time partner in crime Martin Castrogiovanni will share a special moment as they both celebrate their 100th test cap, becoming the 3rd and 4th Italian to do so following in the footsteps of Alessandro Troncon and Andrea Lo Cicero. Parisse lines up at no8 for the 90th time, and captains for the 52nd time since succeeding Tronton after the 2007 World Cup.
Jacques Brunel has made eight changes to the side that came up well short against Australia. Leonardo Ghiraldini and Quintin Geldenhuys are restored to the side, with Valerio Bernabo also called in to help beef up the tight five. Michele Rizzo remains despite having a poor match in Turin, and Mauro Bergamasco dons the blue no7 jersey once again.
In the backs Luciano Orquera takes over at flyhalf from Alberto Di Bernardo, and Gonzalo Canale replaces Alberto Sgarbi with Luca Morisi shifting to his more accustomed inside centre role. Tommaso Iannone and blockbusting Giovanbattista Venditti are the new wingers, and uncapped Michele Campagnaro looks to make his debut from the bench. Suva-born Manoa Vosawai will face his home country for the first time when he comes on as a replacement.
Fiji have retained largely the same side that jogged to victory over Portugal, changing three players to go with a few positional swaps. Apisai Naikatini moves into the second row to make room for recalled Dominiko Waqaniburotu, and Masi Matadigo comes in at no8 with big Sisa Koyamaibole resigned to bench duty.
The steady delivery of Nemia Kenatale is preferred to the more unpredictable Nikola Matawalu at scrumhalf, with Seremaia Bai moving up to direct traffic at flyhalf. Nemani Nadolo is set to be used as a battering ram as he is moved inside to no12, with Chiefs speedster Asaeli Tikoirotuma brought into the midfield outside. Timoci Nagusa shuffles over to wing to make room for Metuisela Talebula, currently the leading try-scorer in the Top 14.
On paper this match can generally be reduced to the Italian forwards vs the Fijian backs. The Azzurri will have to deny possession to Fiji as much as possible, because even with only 40% of the ball that backline could easily cut the Italians to ribbons. The Fijians won’t have been too comfortable training in the damp weather during the week, but thankfully for them the forecast is predicting mild sunshine on Saturday.
This is a very difficult one to call but the strength of the Fijian attackers are just too much to ignore. The Fijian scrum has improved enough that they should be able to at least hold their own ball, and their lineout should be fine as long as Viliame Veikoso throws straight. Take Fiji to win by 10.
Italy: Luke McLean, Giovambattista Venditti, Gonzalo Canale, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Iannone; Luciano Orquera, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Alessandro Zanni; Valerio Bernabo, Quintin Geldenhuys; Martin Castrogiovanni Leonardo Ghiraldini, Michele Rizzo
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Matias Aguero, Lorenzo Cittadini, Joshua Furno, Manoa Vosawai, Tobias Botes, Tommaso Allan, Michele Campagnaro
Fiji:Metuisela Talebula; Timoci Nagusa, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Nemani Nadolo, Napolioni Nalaga; Serenaia Bai, Nemia Kenatale; Sakiusa Matadigo, Akapusi Qera (capt), Dominiko Waqaniburotukula; Wame Lewaravu, Apisai Naikatini; Setefano Somoca, Viliame Veikoso, Jereremaia Yanuyanutawa
Replacements: Seremaia Namaralevu, Campese Ma’afu, Manasa Saulo, Sisa Koyamaibole, Malakai Ravulo, Nikola Matawalu, Waisea Luveniyali, Adriu Delai
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