Italy are out to rain on Brian O’Driscoll’s great leaving parade in Dublin on Saturday, according to captain Marco Bortolami.
The 33-year-old lock has vowed Italy will try to “destroy” O’Driscoll’s final international appearance in Dublin, as he sets a new Test caps world-record mark of 140.
Former Gloucester lock Bortolami hailed Ireland as the best team in this year’s RBS 6 Nations, but still believes the Azzurri can claim their first win in Dublin since 1997 this weekend. Retiring prop Andrea Lo Cicero’s tears were a feature of Italy’s 22-15 victory over Ireland in Rome in last season’s closing Six Nations clash.
Bortolami knows full well Saturday will also be wrought with emotion and sentiment – just not until the final whistle.
“I don’t think they will change the way they play because of Brian’s 140th game,” said Bortolami, Italy’s stand-in skipper in Sergio Parisse’s absence.
“After the game I’m sure that will get some attention. But we will try to destroy this party for him.
“We don’t want to disrespect him, but that’s the way sport is. I’m sure it’s a motivation for Ireland, but to be honest we haven’t talked about that.
“We have to do our job, turn up and execute our gameplan, that’s what we can control.”
O’Driscoll will retire in the summer, with his final international match set for the Six Nations closer against France in Paris on Saturday, March 15. Italy’s victory in Rome last year was the catalyst for Joe Schmidt replacing Declan Kidney as Ireland boss.
Bortolami freely admits Italy are underdogs for the trip to Ireland, especially with just one Six Nations win on the road in Scotland in 2007. The Zebre second row still believes Italy can pull off a shock result though, even without talisman Parisse and influential back-rower Alessandro Zanni.
“Brian’s one of the greatest, the way he has lasted so long and the qualities he has shown, it’s amazing,” said Bortolami in praise of O’Driscoll.
“It’s very difficult to keep the same level for 15 years, and to be involved with Ireland for that long, to go on that many Lions tours, it’s amazing. It’s been a pleasure to play against him many, many times, and I think everyone will agree with me on that.
“I think Ireland are very proud of what they can produce and their style of rugby right now. I think they are sure they will win this game but they lost last year in Rome. We have come from a very tough game against Scotland last week
“We are underdogs, and we are under no illusions, but if we play a proper game we can put them under pressure. If you let them do what they want, they can control a game and they will win.
“The way they play yes, I do believe they are the best team [in the tournament]. I wasn’t surprised they lost last week, but they were in control of the game, but opportunities didn’t go their way.
“The way they play, they are very consistent, good kicking game and put teams under pressure, play in the right areas. When they get in the 22 they build opportunities to score. It seems they don’t have any weaknesses but we know how we’re going to put them under pressure.”
Despite several enforced changes to the Italy pack, Bortolami remains optimistic on his side’s chances at the Aviva Stadium.
“Playing without Sergio [Parisse] is not very good for us, because he’s our captain, a leader, he’s tremendous loss for us,” he said.
“But I think we’ve got the energy and we possibly have different qualities in our back-row now.
“Furno is playing very well, and Barbiesi is very strong off the base of the scrum. So we have all the means to put the Ireland team under pressure, even if we can’t field Parisse and Zanni.”