Italy coach Conor O’Shea has named a 31-man squad for Japan 2019 with Sergio Parisse confirmed as captain in his fifth Rugby World Cup.
Talismanic number eight Parisse made his tournament debut as a replacement against New Zealand in Melbourne in 2003 and will come up against the All Blacks again in Toyota City 16 years later – almost to the day.
He will be assisted in on-field leadership in Japan by vice-captain Leonardo Ghiraldini as the hooker, alongside second-row Alessandro Zanni, prepares to play at his fourth edition of the quadrennial tournament.
That senior trio will be invaluable to O’Shea who, in the wake of the Azzurri’s 85-15 win over Russia, has picked a squad light on Rugby World Cup experience.
Only five players other than Parisse, Ghiraldini and Zanni have previously appeared at the tournament, with 23 of those selected set to make their Rugby World Cup debuts in Japan.
“Choosing the 31 players for the Rugby World Cup and talking to those who will not continue the adventure with us was probably the hardest thing I have done since I've been in the rugby world,” O’Shea, who shaved the squad from an initial 44 players, said.
A better team
“It is a dream for everyone to represent Italy at the World Cup. It's hard because everyone deserved to be here.
“Now all the boys have an extra responsibility for the jersey they wear, for the fans and for all the players who stayed at home.”
Italy have been drawn alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia and Canada in Pool B as O’Shea attempts to lead the Azzurri into the quarter-finals for the first time.
One of O’Shea’s first acts as Italy coach was to mastermind a 20-18 defeat of the Springboks in Florence, the Azzurri’s only victory against South Africa in 14 attempts.
Italy have never beaten the All Blacks but as he attempts to topple the world champions, O'Shea has called on 25 players who ply their trade for home PRO14 sides Benetton and Zebre.
“Compared to when I started my journey here now we definitely have a better team with a higher internal competition,” O’Shea said.
“Especially in the last period [we have] shown that we can play against famous teams when we express our best game.
“When we are under pressure we must have the lucidity to make the right decisions at various times in the game that can always change.
“At the World Cup we must absolutely win against Namibia and Canada and then focus on the other two big challenges we have.
“I believe that with South Africa, with this group, an opportunity can be created every day.”
The Azzurri will play warm-up matches against France, in Paris on 30 August, and England, in Newcastle on 6 September, before heading to Japan.
Italy open their Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign against Namibia in Osaka on 22 September before taking on Canada in Fukuoka four days later. Games against South Africa, in Shizuoka, on 4 October and New Zealand in Toyota City on 12 October will round out pool play.
Italy squad for RWC 2019
Forwards: Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Oliviero Fabiani, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Alessandro Zanni, Maxime Mbanda, Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (captain) Jake Polledri, Abraham Steyn.
Backs: Callum Braley, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani.
Photo: fotosportit.com / FIR