Taking over from Conor O’Shea, who failed to net the Italians a single victory during his three Six Nations campaigns in charge, Smith has opted to give 21-year-old Niccolo Cannone his debut while also rejigging the backline where Leonardo Sarto appears for the first time in over two years and Carlo Canna is positioned at inside centre.
Wasps’ Matteo Minozzi and Mattia Bellini will join Sarto in the back three, with Canna teaming up with Luca Morisi in midfield alongside a half-back partnership of Tommaso Allan and Gloucester’s Callum Braley.
No8 Abraham Steyn will be supported by Sebastian Negri and Jake Polledri, another Gloucester inclusion. Veteran Alessandro Zanni will support rookie Cannone – who has featured in the local Italian league with Petrarca this season along with PRO14’s Benetton – at lock while the front row comprises of Zebre trio Andrea Lovotti, skipper Luca Bioji and Giosue Zilocchi.
“We have worked a lot these days on and off the pitch in full synergy with all the staff and players,” said Smith. “We know our potential and what we can give. I have faith in the team and I’m looking forward to seeing them on the pitch against Wales.”
Gli Azzurri scelti da Franco Smith per #WALvITA, match d’esordio nel @SixNationsRugby 2020 ?? https://t.co/2IiBQOJSxr
? Kick off sabato 1 febbraio alle 15.15 (ITA), diretta @dmaxitalia #insieme #rugbypassioneitaliana pic.twitter.com/boLJFc8o2o
— Italrugby (@Federugby) January 30, 2020
ITALY (vs Wales, Saturday)
15. Matteo MINOZZI (Wasps, 16 caps)
14. Leonardo SARTO (Benetton, 34 caps)
13. Luca MORISI (Benetton, 29 caps)
12. Carlo CANNA (Zebre, 39 caps)
11. Mattia BELLINI (Zebre, 22 caps)
10. Tommaso ALLAN (Benetton, 54 caps)
9. Callum BRALEY (Gloucester, 5 caps)
8. Abraham STEYN (Benetton, 36 caps)
7. Sebastian NEGRI (Benetton, 22 caps)
6. Jake POLLEDRI (Gloucester, 13 caps)
5. Niccolo CANNONE (Petrarca/Benetton, uncapped)
4. Alessandro ZANNI (Benetton, 117 caps)
3. Giosuè ZILOCCHI (Zebre, 2 caps)
2. Luca BIGI (Zebre, 24 caps) – capt
1. Andrea LOVOTTI (Zebre, 40 caps)
16. Federico ZANI (Benetton. 13 caps)
17. Danilo FISCHETTI (Zebre, uncapped)
18. Marco RICCIONI (Benetton, 7 caps)
19. Dean BUDD (Benetton, 26 caps)
20. Marco LAZZARONI (Benetton, 4 caps)
21. Giovanni LICATA (Zebre, 8 caps)
22. Guglielmo PALAZZANI (Zebre, 36 caps)
23. Jayden HAYWARD (Benetton, 23 caps)
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