Sergio Parisse has insisted perennial Six Nations strugglers Italy “have not come here to see England play” ahead of their match at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Azzurri have lost all 24 of their previous Tests against England and head into this weekend’s fixture on the back of a woeful run of 20 straight losses in the Six Nations — a sequence dating back to 2015.
But Italy captain Parisse, long a world-class No 8, said Friday: “We have not come here to see England play. We want to play, to not just be spectators, and to play our best rugby.
“It’s the only way to be competitive against this side.”
England coach Eddie Jones has paired dynamic centres Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi, who weigh in at a combined 34 stone, together in midfield, with Italy aware they face a gruelling match.
“I do not know what Eddie Jones’ plans are but when you see their backline, we do not expect too many passes or too much champagne rugby around the field,” said Parisse.
“We think we are going to have a real battle, real physicality from their centres. We are ready for that. We know what is coming,” the 35-year-old veteran of 136 Tests added.
For all that recent results have been disappointing, Italy’s game has been evolving — a point made in a backhanded compliment by Jones who said the Azzurri were a good side when coach Conor O’Shea, the former Ireland full-back, “lets them play”.
Last time out, Italy led champions Ireland 16-12 at half-time in Rome before losing 26-16 and Parisse, who missed that match with concussion, said: “If you see our game against Ireland and before, we are not the Italian team who play slow rugby, using mauls and playing a boring game anymore. We are trying to be a more attacking team, with more possession, trying to move the ball around.”
Global rugby chiefs have recently unveiled plans for a new World League but Stade Francais star Parisse warned against adding to players’ workloads in an increasingly brutal sport.
“It has become a really physical game and we want less injuries. When you bring in a new competition, you need to be careful to not add games and to do the best for the players. It is not an easy affair.”
– ‘Targeted’ –
World Rugby’s proposals have also re-opened the thorny debate over Six Nations relegation, with many questioning why Italy should have a permanent place at Europe’s top table while the likes of Georgia are excluded.
“When there is talk about relegation we feel targeted, because of course in the last few years we have fought every time to not be last in the Six Nations,” said Parisse.
“But we have shown in the past how competitive we are by beating the other Six Nations sides. We will respect any decision, but it is important to respect the history of some competitions.
“Italy was not added into the Six Nations because it’s a nice country and people wanted a weekend away in Rome.
“Italy and a lot of players from the past beat big teams to show they should be involved in the competition and be part of it. The other teams that dream to be in the Six Nations maybe with this new competition will have an opportunity, I don’t know.
“If World Rugby does a new competition with relegation, then Italy and everyone are going to respect it.”