Four changes to Italy side for first Test against Japan

Italy have named NatWest 6 Nations stars Matteo Minozzi and Tommaso Allan in their starting line-up for their first Test against Japan in Oita on Saturday.

Italy have named NatWest 6 Nations stars Matteo Minozzi and Tommaso Allan in their starting line-up for their first Test against Japan in Oita on Saturday.

Young full-back Minozzi became the first Azzurri player in the history of the NatWest 6 Nations to score a try in four successive games as he was nominated for Player of the Championship.

Allan was another positive from this year’s campaign and head coach Conor O’Shea will hope they are equally effective in the two-Test series against the Brave Blossoms.

O’Shea has made four changes in total to the XV who started Italy’s agonising 29-27 defeat to Scotland in Rome on Super Saturday.

Veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, in his 95th Test, will captain the side in the absence of Sergio Parisse, who has been rested for the summer tour, with Abraham Steyn coming in at No.8.

Elsewhere, Giovanni Licata takes over from Jake Polledri on the openside flank, while Tiziano Pasquali replaces Simone Ferrari at tighthead prop.

The only change in the backs sees Michele Campagnaro come in for Giulio Bisegni for his first appearance at Test level in 2018 following a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Uncapped front rower Giosuè Zilocchi has been named among the reserves.


Speaking about the challenge awaiting his side, O’Shea said: “Our opponents come from a positive period, they play at home, they have the habit of playing together in Super Rugby.

“We know that the next two matches that await us will be very, very demanding and every Test match represents a great challenge for us.

“We have made important steps forwards in recent years and now we have to put pressure on ourselves and translate this work into successes.

“I asked the players to focus on their individual goals and, as always, to think about the performance before the result, but we must not forget that we are here to win.”   THE OPPOSITION

Japan have shown real improvement since Jamie Joseph took over at the back end of last year.

The former Highlanders coach, who is also in charge of the Sunwolves in Super Rugby, led the side to victory over Tonga in November and a draw with France.

Indeed the Brave Blossoms were one missed conversion away from turning that draw into a victory against their NatWest 6 Nations rivals.

And seeing as France then beat Italy in this year’s Championship, O’Shea will need to be wary of the threat that they bring.

Flanker Michael Leitch will captain the side while No.8 Amanaki Mafi is the man to look out for, the Melbourne Rebel is a wrecking-ball runner who will take some stopping.


Italy have won five of the six clashes between these two teams, but the last clash in Tokyo was won by Japan in 2014.

Italy starting XV to face Japan:

15. Matteo Minozzi (Zebre, 8 caps) 14. Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton, 50 caps) 13. Michele Campagnaro (Exeter Chiefs, 32 caps) 12. Tommaso Castello (Zebre, 10 caps) 11. Mattia Bellini (Zebre, 13 caps) 10. Tommaso Allan (Benetton, 38 caps) 9. Marcello Violi (Zebre, 13 caps)

1. Andrea Lovotti (Zebre, 25 caps) 2. Leonardo Ghiraldini (Stade Toulousain, 94 caps) (Captain) 3. Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton, 7 caps) 4. Alessandro Zanni (Benneton, 104 caps) 5. Dean Budd (Benetton, 11 caps) 6. Sebastian Negri (Benetton, 7 caps) 7. Giovanni Licata (Flame Gold, 5 caps) 8. Abraham Steyn (Benetton, 19 caps)   Replacements:

16. Luca Bigi (Benetton, 9 caps) 17. Federico Zani (Benetton, 6 caps) 18. Giosuè Zilocchi (Patarò Calvisano, uncapped) 19. George Biagi (Zebre, 21 caps) 20. Marco Fuser (Benetton, 27 caps) 21. Jake Polledri (Gloucester, 1 cap) 22. Tito Tebaldi (Benetton, 23 caps) 23. Jayden Hayward (Benetton, 8 caps)