Brunel shocks with Venditti
Giovanbattista Venditti (File)
Rome - New Italy coach Jacques Brunel sprang a surprise on Wednesday by picking uncapped winger Giovanbattista Venditti for Saturday's Six Nations opener against France in Paris.
The Frenchman opted for a youthful and inexperienced backline with Edoardo Gori coming in at scrumhalf and Tommaso Benvenuti and Alberto Sgarbi (12 caps each) getting the nod at centre ahead of the vastly more experienced Gonzalo Canale (72 caps), who is on the bench.
Venditti admitted it was a dream come true to be given this chance.
"I'm delighted. I've dreamed of playing for my country since I was young. I always used to go and watch them at the Stadio Flaminio," he said.
"Rather than being afraid of the emotion, it's my first cap, playing against France in Paris, the World Cup runners-up with the issue of revenge (for last year's historic defeat) - it's brilliant."
Brunel insisted he had total confidence in his young guns, particularly 21-year-old Venditti.
"He's a player with potential, he has speed and power and he's young," said Brunel, who also explained why Canale has been left on the bench.
"We need more potential and also greater cohesion because Benvenuti and Sgarbi play together (at Treviso), whereas Canale has been a bit injured.
"He should be able to come in and use his experience. The many youngsters will give a different vision to start us on a different path."
Australian-born Kris Burton lines up at flyhalf with South African-born Tobias Botes, who was a late call-up on Tuesday, sitting on the bench and set to possibly make his debut.
Botes is first-choice scrumhalf at Treviso with Fabio Semenzato, also on the bench against France, second-choice; Gori is only third-choice at club level.
But Brunel has his own ideas and intends to follow them, with Botes not even being considered as a scrum-half.
"I've not brought him in to compete with the scrum-halves. He's a fly-half and a kicker but then we'll see how things go throughout the tournament," said the Frenchman.
"Our problem is more finding potential at fly-half rather than at scrum-half, where we have more choices with Semenzato, Gori and (Tito) Tebaldi."
Gori, 21, hopes that the opportunity will help him convince club coach, South African Franco Smith, to also give him more playing time.
"It's a strange situation. At club level those who are playing are doing very well and I'm finding it harder to find space," said Gori.
"But here in the national team, there's more confidence in me. Maybe it's because I'm younger than them so I can work more on my weaknesses but I hope also to convince Smith at Treviso to have more confidence in me."
Burton is looking forward to his opportunity, having been overlooked by previous coach Nick Mallett for the World Cup.
With Aironi's Luciano Orquera injured, Burton will be handed kicking and play-making duties.
"It's a big opportunity. I take every start or every time I get on the field with Italy as an opportunity to prove myself and show I can play at this level," he said.
"I hope this weekend I can prove that I can move the team around and forward properly and show that I can read the game."
Up front, the only surprise was that Mauro Bergamasco was not even afforded a place on the bench, while Robert Barbieri starts in the back row alongside captain Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi; 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean; 10 Kris Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori; 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni; 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Cornelius Van Zyl; 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero
Substitutes: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Simone Favaro, 20 Fabio Semenzato, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Gonzalo Canale