Sergio Parisse says he is ‘really confident’ about his Italy team’s prospects against Wales on Saturday – despite history being stacked against them.
Italy have lost their last 18 Six Nations Tests, going without a win in the tournament since they beat Scotland at Murrayfield four years ago.
The Azzurri have to go even further back – March 2013 – for a Six Nations home victory, while they last toppled Wales in 2007.
They will also face a Wales team at Stadio Olimpico that is chasing a record-equalling 11th successive win against all opponents, stretching back to last season’s tournament.
Italy opened their campaign with a 33-20 defeat in Scotland last Saturday, suggesting they could struggle to hold Wales, even if visiting head coach Warren Gatland has made 10 changes following victory over France last time out.
But Italy skipper Parisse, who makes an Italian record 14th appearance against Wales on Saturday, said: ‘I am really confident because I have seen a lot of great work from the team during training in the week.
‘We go into the game with belief, and we are playing with confidence.
‘But the most important thing is the whole 80 minutes against a big, big side in Wales who are (ranked) fourth in the world.
‘They won in France not playing their best rugby. France conceded some very easy tries, but we know Wales are a very dangerous side. For us, we want to be in the game for 80 minutes.’
Parisse dismissed Wales’ mass changes as having any relevance on the game, with Gatland making full use of a 31-man squad that trained during a five-day camp in Nice this week.
‘From the point of view of a player, it is a dangerous mindset to be in if you are more motivated to face a side that has made changes,’ Parisse told reporters at Stadio Olimpico on Friday.
‘That is not a good place to be. For us, it doesn’t matter whether Wales have made 10, 15, 11 or three changes.
‘They are still a very, very strong side, and we will have to be at our best to beat them. We are concentrating on ourselves.’
Captain Jonathan Davies has stressed the importance of Wales making a fast start, whilst victory in his first game as Wales skipper would extend 60th birthday celebrations for Davies’ father.
Davies’ parents watched Wales beat France in Paris last week before travelling through Switzerland on the Glacier Express, and then heading to Rome.
“My dad was 60 on Tuesday, so they went from Paris through Switzerland on the Glacier Express,” Davies said. “I think they have had a great week, mum and dad.
“They have been a massive part of where I am today, so to have my family and loved ones out here is great.
“It is important we start well. We can’t give Italy opportunities to get into the game.
“We are looking to start fast and keep going. The week has been great, and the boys are excited.
“They (Italy) always come out pretty fast, so it is about managing that start.
“It is about keeping to what we have worked on over the last few weeks, build momentum and pressure, and hopefully that hard work we put in at the start will pay off.”
A Wales win would make it 11 in a row against all opponents, equalling their all-time record run set between 1907 and 1910.
And Davies will be at the helm this weekend after taking over leadership duties from lock Alun Wyn Jones, who is among Wales’ replacements at Stadio Olimpico.
“It is a huge honour, but any time you put on the red jersey of Wales it is an honour in itself,” Davies said.
“There is added responsibility, but it is something I am looking forward to. I am very fortunate with the players we have – they know the standards needed.
“For me, it is making sure boys are in a good frame of mind, and know what we want to achieve.”
Wales have arrived in Rome straight from a training camp on the Cote d’Azur, and there are opportunities for several players to make an impact at the start of World Cup year.
Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Leicester wing Jonah Holmes both make Six Nations debuts, with Young emulating his father – former Wales prop Dai Young – in representing Wales on the tournament’s stage.
Centre Owen Watkin, scrum-half Aled Davies and flanker Aaron Wainwright are also among those looking to take a chance handed them by Wales head coach Warren Gatland.
“We had 31 players in Nice, so it is giving everyone an opportunity to show what they have,” Davies said.
“Looking at last year, there were a similar amount of changes, and so there is that pressure and responsibility of the group who will play here to make sure we deliver a performance to build momentum after last week.”