Rookies Leonardo Marin and Giacomo Da Re are preferred to Carlo Canna at fly-half in Italy’s squad for the first two rounds of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
Benetton No.10 Marin and Da Re – who is registered for both Rovigo and Benetton – are two of the six uncapped players included by coach Kieran Crowley in the 33-man group and are expected to back-up current starting fly-half Paolo Garbisi.
Hooker Giacomo Nicotera, back-rowers Toa Halafihi and Manuel Zuliani and back-three flyer Tommaso Menoncello, all of whom ply their club trade for Benetton, are the other men hoping to win a first Azzurri cap.
In fact, the entire squad has a Benetton slant to it, with the Treviso-based club providing 23 players in comparison to just five from Zebre Parma – the other professional Italian franchise – as well as a handful of players who play overseas.
Canna, who has 53 Italy caps to his name, misses out along with hooker and former captain Luca Bigi.
Bigi is only expected to return from an injury later this month, although likely would be fit in time for the Azzurri’s Round 1 clash with France, but Crowley didn’t close the door completely on either man earning their way back into the fold.
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“I’m full of confidence in the players we’ve selected in this position [fly-half],” said Crowley. “Obviously the player who has missed out is Carlo Canna.
“Carlo has been a great servant for Italy and still could be in the future. I’ve had a discussion with him about what I want to see from him in the next few games with Zebre and the door is still open for him.
“But at the moment, we’re very comfortable with Garbisi, Marin and Da Re – who has played very well for Italy A and Italy Emergenti.
“I see Da Re as a player who can play at No.10 – he has very good vision there. He’s a heads-up player who looks for space, so I see him as a ten but also capable of playing at 15.
“He also has versatility with his pace to be wing cover – he has lots of versatility so we’ll be looking at using him in those positions.
“I have discussed with Bigi that he needs to have some game-time and then we’ll consider after that whether he is considered for the next selection.”
Legendary back-rower Sergio Parisse was also mooted for a call-up and a final swansong in the Azzurri jersey, having already announced his retirement from rugby at the end of the season.
But given his limited recent playing time for Toulon due to injury and Covid cancellations, Crowley says that decision will have to wait until he names his next squad after the first rest week.
“Sergio broke his hand, he came back from that and has played 50 minutes of rugby for his club and they have not played for the past few weeks because of the situation with Covid,” added Crowley.
“He has basically had 50 minutes of rugby in the last few months. When we discussed, we decided that the plan is that he will play for his club – they have four games in the next four weeks – and then we’ll reconsider him for the Ireland selection (Round 3) and the last two games.
“He is of the opinion that he needs to get his confidence back after so long without rugby, so we have discussed that and he is still open for selection moving forward.”
Italy begin the 2022 Guinness Six Nations with a trip to face France in Paris before hosting England in Rome ahead of the first rest week.
And Crowley claims the squad he has selected gives the Azzurri the best chance to succeed in this year’s Championship while also preparing them well for the future.
“We have a group of 33 players and you have some experience there but you have a lot of younger players,” he said.
“Some of those younger players have been in squad for the last two or three camps though. It’s a bit of both but the immediate goal is the Six Nations and performing well in that.
“If we can also develop players along the way, that’s what we hope to do.”
Full Italy squad for the first two rounds of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations
Props: Pietro Ceccarelli (Brive, 17 caps), Danilo Fischetti (Zebre Parma, 15 caps), Ivan Nemer (Benetton Rugby, 3 caps), Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton Rugby, 21 caps), Cherif Traore (Benetton Rugby, 12 caps), Giosuè Zilocchi (Zebre Parma, 15 caps)
Hookers: Epalahame Faiva (Benetton Rugby, 1 cap), Gianmarco Lucchesi (Benetton Rugby, 8 caps), Giacomo Nicotera (Benetton Rugby, uncapped)
Second row: Niccolò Cannone (Benetton Rugby, 15 caps), Marco Fuser (Newcastle Falcons, 36 caps), Federico Ruzza (Benetton Rugby, 25 caps), David Sisi (Zebre Parma, 18 caps)
Back row: Toa Halafihi (Benetton Rugby, uncapped), Michele Lamaro (Benetton Rugby, 10 caps) – captain, Sebastian Negri (Benetton Rugby, 36 caps), Giovanni Pettinelli (Benetton Rugby, 1 cap), Braam Steyn (Benetton Rugby, 46 caps), Manuel Zuliani (Benetton Rugby, uncapped)
Scrum-halves: Callum Braley (Benetton Rugby, 12 caps), Alessandro Fusco (Fiamme Oro Rugby/Zebre Parma, 2 caps), Stephen Varney (Gloucester Rugby, 9 caps)
Fly-halves: Giacomo Da Re (FEMI-CZ Rovigo/Benetton Rugby, uncapped), Paolo Garbisi (Montpellier, 13 caps), Leonardo Marin (Benetton Rugby, uncapped)
Centres: Juan Ignacio Brex (Benetton Rugby, 8 caps), Luca Morisi (Benetton Rugby, 36 caps), Marco Zanon (Benetton Rugby, 7 caps)
Wingers/full-backs: Pierre Bruno (Zebre Parma, 1 cap), Montanna Ioane (Benetton Rugby, 9 caps), Tommaso Menoncello (Benetton Rugby, uncapped), Federico Mori (Bordeaux, 11 caps), Edoardo Padovani (Benetton Rugby, 30 caps)