Pool C preview: Italy v USA
Italy start an intense run-in to the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool-play finish line with no margin for error in their win-at-all-costs Rugby World Cup Pool C clash against the United States Eagles in Nelson on Tuesday.
A four-try, bonus-point victory will set Italy up for a winner-takes-all group finale against Ireland on Sunday to determine the second Pool C quarterfinalist along with the seemingly inevitable entry of Australia.
It's also a must-win game for second-tier side the US Eagles who have already beaten Russia and a second win could earn them direct entry to the 2015 World Cup without the need to go through qualifying tournaments.
Ireland, Italy and Australia remain in contention for the two knockout berths, with Australia - despite losing to the Irish two weeks ago - arguably in the strongest position as they have only minnows Russia left to play.
Italy coach Nick Mallett was impressed with the way the United States did not weaken off in the second half when they lost to Ireland 10-22, and was taking no chances by naming his top side.
The battle-hardened front row of hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini and props Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini have been tasked with taking control up front and "it won't be easy", according to none other than Castrogiovanni.
"They rested their best players against Australia to be ready for this match," said the powerful tighthead prop, "they want to win their second match at a World Cup, because it is something they have never done before."
In the backs, the premier centre pairing of Gonzalo Canale and Gonzalo Garcia are reunited as Italy look to score wide, although they have lost the thrust of fullback Andrea Masi who pulled out on the eve of the game with a thigh strain.
"We know about the points and bonus points and so we want to score four tries (against the United States) and go into the last match against Ireland with confidence and a chance to qualify," said captain Sergio Parisse.
That has caused a dilemma for Mallett who does not want to flog his star players, with only a five-day break before playing Ireland, but he cannot afford to substitute them if the United States put up a bold showing.
Said the Italian boss: "Obviously, I'd like to do that, to allow them to only play 60 out of 80 minutes, but if the game is really tight, which it could quite easily be against the United States, I think that it's difficult to do that because we must win at all cost."
The US Eagles sacrificed themselves in the 5-67 hiding by Australia, resting 14 leading players - including captain Todd Clever - so they should be fresh to play Italy.
The 14 are all back in the fold to play Italy and while coach Eddie O'Sullivan has given his side every opportunity to create history by winning a second match he is also realistic.
"I'm not saying we'll beat Italy, that'd be an arrogant thing to say, but I think we can test Italy and see what they've got," said O'Sullivan.
"We know we're on the flight home on Wednesday morning so if we can turn in another big performance against a tier-one nation, as we did against Ireland, that'd be a perfect way for us to finish our World Cup."
Players to Watch:
For Italy: When the Azzurri play you always keep an eye on their outstanding captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse - back to the kind of form that saw him dominate Six Nations rugby before picking up a serious knee injury. The Bergamasco brothers - winger Mirco and flanker Mauro - will always thrill and, of course, how can you not keep an eye on the bearded wonder of props, Leicester's Martin Castrogiovanni?
For the USA: Based purely on skill, Chris Wyles is the best back in the Eagles line-up, but when it comes to pace not many in world rugby can rival winger Takudzwa Ngwenya. Up front, loose forwards Nic Johnson and Louis Stanfill will have to show why they were picked ahead of the impressive JJ Gagiano and captain Todd Clever, will - as always, lead from the front.
Head to Head: Surely the battle at scrum time between Martin Castrogiovanni and Mike MacDonald will attract plenty of attention? Both are competitive... both are experienced... but, most importantly, both are props who love a battle at scrum time. Another head-to-head worth watching will be between left wing Mirco Bergamasco (Italy) and right wing Takudzwa Ngwenya (USA) - the latter not having had enough space at RWC 2011 to show his blistering speed... yet!
2004: Italy won 43-25 in Biella-in-Piedmont
1991: Italy won 30-9 in Otley
Prediction: This should be an interesting game... There is no doubt that USA coach O'Sullivan has been targeting this match as a must-win since the start of the World Cup - certainly based on his rotation policy. However, this Italian side boasts plenty of big-game experience - most of which comes from playing Six Nations rugby on an annual basis. Italy boss Mallett is nearing the end of his tenure as the Azzurri and a RWC knockout place could make a mockery of that fact. Our bet? We're going with Mallett's team - by 13-15 points.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Cornelius van Zyl, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Edoardo Gori, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Giulio Toniolatti.
USA Eagles: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Mate Moeakiola, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully.
Date: Tuesday, September 27
Kick-off: 19.30 (06.30 GMT)
Venue: Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Expected weather conditions: Fine, northerly winds. Min 6°C, Max 17°C.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)