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Dublin: 16 °C Monday 1 September, 2014

All you need to know about Italy ahead of the Six Nations

With just two home games to target, 2014 could be a lean year for the Azzuri.

Their coach still have that class moustache?

JACQUES BRUNEL WILL take on the Six Nations for the third time as Italy coach.

On his watch, the Azzuri have claimed notable wins over France and Ireland on home soil and they have avoided the wooden spoon.

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Sang Tan/AP/Press Association Images

However, his efforts to make Italy a more attacking side seems to have made them more vulnerable once they cross the Alps.

This being an even-numbered year, they will play Scotland and England at home while travelling three times. Their opening two fixtures will bring road trips to Cardiff and Paris, so there are tough times in store.

Form

Their average points per game certainly look to be on the way up, but in November Italy only managed to beat Fiji. They lost by five to Argentina and by 50 to Australia despite taking an early 10 – 0 lead; a result which shows that a superior scrum isn’t everything.

Weakness

It’s improving, and the cliche is being eroded bit by bit, but Italy remain a dreadfully unbalanced side with world class operators in the pack and a mish-mash of backs.

There are slowly emerging signs of depth to the back-line, though, and by snapping up players like Tommaso (or, as he was known as a Scotland under 20, Tommy) Allan and Luke McLean while bringing homegrown wings such as Giovanbattista Venditti; there is at last a sense of shape coming to the Azzuri.

Any missing Italians?

Unfortunately, that shape will be severely hampered by the absence through injury of Venditti (who may make the latter stages), Andrea Masi and Gonzalo Canale. So you may see Brunel searching for World Cup options in his three-quarter line rather than fret over scorelines.

Key man

No argument, no room for debate and no hesitation: It’s Sergio Parisse.

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Alessandra Tarantino/AP/Press Association Images

The number eight has been let loose around the park in recent years thanks to the effective Alessandro Zanni and Roberto Barbieri. But no matter where he is, Parisse has shown himself to be a force of nature, capable of turning and controlling games against supposedly superior teams.

Starter for 10?

Brunel has a dilemma throughout the Championship: youth or experience at number 10?

Luciano Orquera has had plenty of chances at international level and has been dropped and recalled like a latter-day Geordan Murphy. However, the 32-year-old has been a crucial part of Zebre’s progression this season and he looks like the form choice at out-half.

In the youthful corner is Allan, who started the November international against Argentina and, though he won’t turn 21 until after the tournament, looks like he will have the temperament and physicality for international rugby.

It’s the same dilemma with goal-kicking so?

There are options outside of the 10 channel. So if Brunel should decide to take the pressure off Allan he could leave the tee with fullback Luke McLean. Tobias Botes is another option, though he has a job on his hands to displace Edoardo Gori as scrum-half..

Possible starting XV: L McLean, T Benvenuti, L Morisi, A Sgarbi,  T Iannone; L Oquera, E Gori: M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni; A Pavanello, M Bortolami; A Zanni, R Barbieri, S Parisse.

Here’s the rest of our 6 Nations team-by-team guides

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