Rookie fly-half Edoardo Padovani has earned the right to leapfrog Kelly Haimona and lead Italy’s backline against Ireland according to head coach Jacques Brunel.
Padovani will make his full Test debut in Dublin’s RBS 6 Nations clash, edging out New Zealand-born Haimona, a player Italy have invested much time and effort in assimilating into their ranks.
Scrum-half Edoardo Gori has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a rib cartilage problem, leaving Guglielmo Palazzani to step into the breach.
Zebre duo Padovani and Palazzani will form an inexperienced Test half-back combination at the Aviva Stadium, boasting just 20 caps between them, but Brunel is banking on the pair capitalising on their club partnership.
“Edoardo Padovani has been with us since the beginning of the Six Nations, he is a young, interesting fly-half and we want to test him from the start after seeing him off the bench,” said Brunel.
“Padovani and Palazzani play together with Zebre, they have built up habits and a partnership through playing together.
“So that choice was also made in relation to this situation.”
Bruising fly-half Haimona slotted in for Italy’s 36-20 defeat to Scotland in the third round, with promising youngster Carlo Canna having been ruled out through a muscle problem.
Captain Sergio Parisse will equal Martin Castrogiovanni’s record of 118 Italy caps on Saturday, with the Azzurri still yet to taste victory in this year’s Six Nations.
Ireland are also winless after three matches, leading Brunel to predict a “complicated” tussle between two teams scratching around desperately for form.
Leicester Tigers hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini will miss the rest of the tournament with a right shoulder injury, with Treviso’s Davide Giazzon stepping up to start in the front row.
Fit-again lock Quintin Geldenhuys takes a seat on the bench, with Brunel insisting George Biagi deserved to start in the second row.
“This will be a complicated match, Ireland like us are still looking for their first victory in the Six Nations and also have to deal with numerous absences, again like us,” said Brunel.
“Biagi did well against France and England so deserves to start, while Geldenhuys will offer great experience coming on in the second half from the bench.”
IRELAND: S Zebo (Munster), A Trimble, J Payne (both Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster) D Toner (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), J Van der Flier, J Heaslip (both Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy (both Leinster), N White (Connacht), U Dillane (Connacht), R Ruddock (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), I Madigan, F McFadden (both Leinster).
ITALY: D Odiete (Mogliano); L Sarto (Zebre), M Campagnaro (Exeter), G Garcia (Zebre), M Bellini (Padova); E Padovani, G Palazzani (both Zebre); A Lovotti (Zebre), D Giazzon (Treviso), L Cittadini (Wasps), G Biagi (Zebre), M Fuser, F Minto, A Zanni (all Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Francais, capt).
Replacements: O Fabiani (Zebre), M Zanusso (Treviso), D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys (both Zebre), A Steyn, A Lucchese (both Treviso), K Haimona (Zebre), L McLean (Treviso).