Six Nations Championship
Bergamasco embracing the fear factor
February 6, 2009
Mauro Bergamasco will put in a shift at No.9 for Italy this weekend ©
It's easy to forgive Mauro Bergamasco a few opening-day nerves as the Italian openside prepares to start at scrum-half for their Six Nations opener against England.
With the Italy camp left reeling by injuries to regular half-backs Pablo Canavosio, Simon Piccone and Pietro Travagli, Bergamasco has been handed the No.9 jersey by coach Nick Mallett.
"I'm more worried than excited," said the Stade Francais flanker. "Obviously that's because there's the need for a good performance on my part, in order not to punish the work of my team-mates. But I accepted the challenge. I've already been training since last week in this new role. We've been working very hard also on communication between me and the number 10."
Bergamasco has played out-of-position for the Azzurri before, on the wing against South Africa, Wales and Ireland, although he has been a mainstay of the back-row since his last appearance out wide in 2003.
Bergamasco will partner young Treviso fly-half Andrea Marcato, who will need to shoulder the playmaking responsibilities with Bergamasco and the Gonzalo Garcia either side of him, the Calvisano centre making his Six Nations debut.
"It's very emotional to be playing in the Six Nations," he said. "I never thought I'd find myself here. I hope to play my best rugby in a game which, for me, will always remain unforgettable whatever happens."
England boss Martin Johnson has warned that his side can to take Bergamasco for granted despite his inexperience.
"It is an interesting call and it does give them some advantages somewhere - having three flankers makes them defensively strong - but in terms of his kicking and passing game we will have to see," said Johnson. "He has never played there in a meaningful game. It is an opportunity for us to put him under pressure, make things difficult for him.
"The risk for us is that we cannot think he will struggle. He could play very well for all we know and we will have to adapt."
Elsewhere in the side there is a welcome return for Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni, while the uncapped Jean-Francois Montauriol of Venezia starts on the bench. Castrogiovanni has been out of action for nearly a year with injury, and represents another gamble for Mallett as he starts against a side that Italy have never beaten.
"I was out of action for almost eight months," he said. "I have only recently returned to the pitch and in a position, that of left prop, which is not my natural one. Of course I'm not in the best possible condition, but I'll give my all from the first minute until I'm substituted."