Italy v Japan, Cesena, August 13
Italy target World Cup boost
ESPNscrum Staff
August 12, 2011
Italy's Andrea Lo Cicero keeps his eye on the ball during training, Italy training session, Villabassa, Italy, July 19, 2011
Prop Andrea Lo Cicero will hope to keep his eye on the ball come Saturday © Getty Images

Italy will meet Japan for just the fifth time on Saturday with the two sides set to go head-to-head at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena.

History is very much on the Azzurri's side going into the Test with the Italians winning on the four previous occasions the two sides have met since their original meeting in Padova back in 1976. However, they are placed perilously close together in the IRB rankings with Italy currently in 11th place - just one spot ahead of Japan.

That is largely because the Brave Blossoms have been in a rich vein of form of late taking both the Asian Five Nations crown and the 2011 Pacific Nations Cup title. Six wins from seven outing in 2011 offers coach John Kirwan plenty of reason for hope ahead of their return to the Rugby World Cup stage.

In contrast, Italy have won just one game this year but it was a pretty significant scalp in the form of France during this year's Six Nations. Form aside, both sides will be going all out to prove to the world that they are worthy of being recognised as a threat come the start of the World Cup.

Italy - Player to Watch: Tight-head Lorenzo Cittadini is used to playing second-fiddle to Martin Castrogiovanni and will hope to put down a marker in the absence of the Tigers prop.

Italy - Team News: Italy coach Nick Mallett has handed out two new caps in his 22 - to hooker Tommaso D'Apice and lock Corniel van Zyl. Sergio Parisse will captain the side from No.8 and is joined in the back-row by Mauro Bergamasco and Alessandro Zanni. Lorenzo Cittadini earns his fifth cap in the front-row alongside Lorenzo Ghiraldini and the vastly experienced Andrea Lo Cicero. Edoardo Gori and Riccardo Bocchino line up at fly-half and scrum-half while Matteo Pratichetti takes the inside centre berth with Alberto Sgarbi outside him. And Giulio Toniolatti lines up in the largely unfamiliar position of winger having previously featured at No.9.

Japan - Player to Watch: Fumiaki Tanaka faces the daunting task of keeping the Asian Five Nations' Emerging Player of the Year Atsushi Hiwasha out of the side and will be looking to make the most of his opportunity to impress on Saturday.

Japan - Team News: Takashi Kikutani will lead the side in Japan's penultimate game before they head to New Zealand. Hisateru Hirashima, Shota Horie and Kensuke Hatakeyama continue their formidable front-row partnership with Justin Ives and Toshizumi Kitagawa locking down behind them. Kikutani will play at blindside flanker with Michael Leitch at openside and Ryu Koliniasi Holani at No.8. In the backs, Fumiaki Tanaka and James Arlidge line up at scrum-half and fly-half with Ryan Nicholas and Koji Taira in the centres. Kosuke Endo and Takehisa Usuzuki line up on the wings with Shaun Webb at fullback.

Key Battle: Holani faces the unenviable task of trying to prevent one of the world's premier No.8's from exerting his usual influence from the back of the scrum. Parisse was in inspired form during the 2011 Six Nations and will frighten even the most battle hardened of No.8's.

Trivia: Japanese fly-half Ryohei Yamanaka recently tested positive for a steroid and was subsequently banned for two years. The half-back claimed the positive test comes as a result of him using a cream to aid the growth of his moustache.

Stats: Italy have never failed to score less than 25 points against Japan in their four previous meetings.

Quote Unquote:

"This group is the result of four years of work. We have no doubt that the quarter-finals are within our capabilities."
- Italy boss Nick Mallett talks bullishly ahead of the World Cup

"I have named the team for this game and the one against the United States. Everyone wants to play against France so I have to give them the chance to prove themselves."
- Japan coach John Kirwan tells his charges the situation ahead of the forthcoming World Cup

Prediction: Even with a youthful side, Italy should still have enough to overcome their rivals although it will not be one-way traffic.

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