Italy's number 8 Sergio Parisse (C) made his international debut in 2002.
Rome (AFP) - Italy coach Conor O’Shea called on his side to give captain Sergio Parisse and fellow veterans Alessandro Zanni and Leonardo Ghiraldini a farewell to remember with a first win in the Six Nations in four years against France at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
The game against a weakened French side looks set to be the final Six Nations match for Parisse, who will extend his record in the tournament to 70 caps.
The 35-year-old Stade Francais number eight has 138 caps for Italy since making his international debut in 2002, while Treviso flanker Zanni has 110 caps and Toulouse hooker Ghiraldini, 103.
“I think that a great performance next Saturday could be rightful recognition for them and the whole group,” said O’Shea of the trio who are set to retire after this year’s World Cup.
“It is difficult sometimes to have so much energy after a game like last Saturday (against England), but when I see Sergio, Alessandro and Leonardo fighting more and more in training …
“They always have the same energy week in, week out,” said O’Shea.
Italy are looking for a first win in the tournament since February 2015 – a run of 22nd successive defeats.
Their only win against France was a 23-18 Six Nations victory in the Stadio Olympico in February 2013.
But O’Shea believes they have a good chance against the French who have had a disappointing Six Nations campaign, and are just ahead of the Italians in the table.
France – who last won the tournament in 2010 – have just one win against an injury-depleted Scotland (27-10) with defeats to Wales (24-19), England (44-8) and Ireland (26-14) last time out.
O’Shea has made five changes from his team that were thrashed 57-14 by England at Twickenham, bringing in centre Marco Zanon, 21, for his first cap.
“Our focus will be on ourselves, trying to play our best rugby. We want to close the tournament with a great performance at the Stadio Olimpico,” said Irishman O’Shea.
The Italian have no points, having lost all four games and are trying to avoid a 14th ‘wooden spoon’ for a whitewash since 2000.
Four changes upfront see Ghiraldini coming in for Luca Bigi, who drops to the bench, while prop Tiziano Pasquali is selected ahead of Simone Ferrari.
David Sisi starts at lock and will earn a fifth cap while English-born Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri is preferred to Sebastian Negri, who starts on the bench, along with Zanni.
- ‘Difficult period’ -
"It's not our best time," said France flanker Yacouba Camara (up).
France coach Jacques Brunel warned his side were determined to show their true face in Rome, as they sit fifth, equal on points with Scotland, but ahead of Italy.
“It’s up to us to show in this last match that the face shown against England and Ireland was not the true France team,” said Brunel.
“We haven’t fixed everything, of course there are still things we need to work on. We will carry on, working hard and with the World Cup to come, we are hopeful we can get it right.”
“It’s not our best time … it’s a difficult period,” added flanker Yacouba Camara.
“It’s sad to say, but we can measure ourselves against Scotland and Italy. We’re sort of at their level even if it’s not our (real) level.”
Brunel has made six changes from the defeat in Dublin, but has kept faith in captain Guilhem Guirado to lead the team into the World Cup which runs from September 20 to November 2 in Japan.
Back rower Wenceslas Lauret and prop Jefferson Poirot were both injured against Ireland, making way for Gregory Alldritt, 21, and Etienne Falgoux, 26, respectively, who are in the starting lineup for the first time.
The other changes give added experience in the backline with the recall of Maxime Medard, 32, capped 55 times, at fullback and 31-year-old Wesley Fofana at centre.
In the pack, Paul Willemse replaces Sebastien Vahaamahina in the second row while Yacouba Camara returns to the back row in place of Arthur Iturria.