Tommy Bowe: Parisse the powerhouse behind the Azzurri

There is no doubt that Ireland would much prefer to be facing an Italy side this weekend that did not feature the talents of their captain and inspiration Sergio Parisse.

Tommy Bowe: Parisse the powerhouse behind the Azzurri

Like a supercharged combination of knight in shining armour and the US cavalry coming over the hill, Parisse is portrayed as Italy’s great saviour, the man who can get the Azzurri back on track after missing the first two games of the World Cup Pool D campaign with a calf injury. Italy have stumbled badly without the Stade Francais No.8, looking rudderless against France in their Twickenham opener and sorely missing his leadership and dynamism as they scraped a narrow victory over Canada at Elland Road last Saturday.

Now, though, Parisse has shaken off his fitness issues and is back to try and save Italy’s World Cup for Sunday’s clash with Ireland.

Parisse is back and, according to Ireland wing Tommy Bowe, liable to turn up anywhere on the field.

“The times I’ve played against him, it’s him that I’m contesting cross-field kicks with,” Bowe said of the Italian captain’s fondness for wing play, “and he’s very good at getting up in the air.

“He’s a world class player. He’s a talisman for Italy. You would expect that with him back fit, he’s going to be back in there, he’ll lift the team and they’ll be very much up for it.”

It is up front, though, where the back rower can do the most damage to oppositions, be it at the breakdown or in the set-piece, where he brings solidity to an often wayward lineout, although Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby respects their pack en bloc.

“They’re probably a bit more consistent with him in there, even though he hasn’t played for a few weeks,” Easterby said. “When you look at Italy and when you look at what they have in their forward pack in particular, (Josh) Furno and (Sergio) Parisse are good operators, especially in competing against opposition line-outs. When Parisse is in there, you know you’ve got another issue to overcome before you’ve got to win your ball.

“So I think if he comes in for (Samuela) Vunisa it does probably show us some of the things that we’ve seen in the past. In the last couple of weeks they’ve really only had Furno and (Alessandro) Zanni a little bit, going up in defence, whereas the consistency of Furno and Parisse in there would probably show a little bit more of what we’ve seen in the past.” Ireland beat a Parisse-led Italy 26-3 in Rome last February, despite missing both Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip. Easterby, however, believes much has changed since that day in the Italian capital.

“We had a certain plan for that game but there is quite a bit of rugby played since then. We feel they are very well structured without the ball.

“They are hard to break down and their discipline has been much better as well. It takes sides a lot more energy and phases to break them down whereas in the past they haven’t been as disciplined or as structured without the ball but they are defending really well at the moment. If we have to multi-phase against them then we are going to have to make sure we have good ball protection, continuity.

“On the weekend against Romania we lost a few of those in key areas, especially in the first few minutes when we had a lot of ball, went through a lot of phases and didn’t manage to come away with any reward. We coughed the ball up. That type of thing is going to be vital against the Italians.”

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