2019 Summer Test Series

Italy Veteran Ghiraldini Returns From Injury For World Cup

Italy Veteran Ghiraldini Returns From Injury For World Cup

Italy adds veteran leadership to their 31 man squad with only 8 having played in a world cup.

Aug 20, 2019 by Austin Willis

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Leonardo Ghiraldini is set to return from injury with the experienced hooker included on Sunday in Italy's largely youthful squad which features 23 tournament debutants for next month's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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Ghiraldini, who has 104 caps, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during the Six Nations last March and had been considered a doubt to play in his fourth World Cup.

But the 34-year-old Italy vice-captain has been chosen by coach Conor O'Shea in a squad largely made up of players who have never competed in the sport's showpiece event.

"Leo is a player with great experience. He worked hard and constantly throughout the summer. We are happy for him, he is an added value both on and off the field," said O'Shea. 

"Leo, together with (Sergio) Parisse and (Alessandro) Zanni, are playing their last matches in the Italy jersey of their extraordinary careers.

"We want to make a dream come true and we have the cards to be able to succeed."

O'Shea whittled down his original 44-man provisional outfit to 31, a day after Italy's 85-15 victory over Russia in their second warm-up in San Benedetto del Tronto.

Captain Parisse returned against Russia after missing their defeat by Ireland, and will play in his fifth World Cup, becoming just the third player to do so after compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoan Brian Lima.

The 35-year-old, who earned his 139th international cap against Russia, joins Australian George Gregan as the third-most capped international, behind New Zealand's Richie McCaw (148) and Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll (141).

Second-rower Zanni (113 caps) will also play in his fourth World Cup, while Benetton fly-half Tommaso Benvenuti (57) will line out in his third.

But among the squad which includes 15 players from Italian side Benetton, and 10 from Zebre, will be 23 who have not played in a World Cup before.

'A Dream For Everyone'

They include Wasps fullback Matteo Minozzi, 23, who scored a hat-trick of tries against Russia, while Gloucester scrum-half Callum Braley and Benetton prop Marco Riccioni are the most inexperienced members of the group with two caps each.

Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri and former England Under-20 back-row David Sisi also made the cut.

"Choosing the 31 players for the Rugby World Cup and talking to those who will not continue the adventure with us was probably the hardest thing I have done," said O'Shea.

"It is a dream for everyone to represent Italy at the World Cup. It's hard because everyone deserved to be here."

Italy play France on August 30 and England the following Friday in pre-tournament warm-ups, before facing defending champions New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia and Canada in Pool B.

"At the World Cup we must absolutely win against Namibia and Canada and then focus on the other two big challenges we have," added Irishman O'Shea.

"I believe that with South Africa, with this group, an opportunity can be created."

Italy squad:

Forwards (18): Simone Ferrari (Benetton), Andrea Lovotti (Zebre), Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton), Nicola Quaglio (Benetton), Marco Riccioni (Benetton), Federico Zani (Benetton), Luca Bigi (Zebre), Oliviero Fabiani (Zebre), Leonardo Ghiraldini (without team), Dean Budd (Benetton), Federico Ruzza (Benetton), David Sisi (Zebre), Alessandro Zanni (Benetton), Maxime Mbanda (Zebre), Sebastian Negri (Benetton), Sergio Parisse (Toulon - capt), Jake Polledri (Gloucester), Abraham Steyn (Benetton)

Backs (13): Callum Braley (Gloucester), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Tito Tebaldi (Benetton), Tommaso Allan (Benetton), Carlo Canna (Zebre), Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton), Michele Campagnaro (Harlequins), Luca Morisi (Benetton), Mattia Bellini (Zebre), Giulio Bisegni (Zebre), Jayden Hayward (Benetton), Matteo Minozzi (Wasps), Edoardo Padovani (Zebre)

@Agence France-Presse