Zanni back for Italy after two years to win 100th cap

ROME (Reuters) - Alessandro Zanni will win his 100th cap for Italy on Sunday after being drafted into the team following a two-year absence for their Six Nations opener against England in Rome.

Rugby Union - Wales v Italy - RBS Six Nations Championship 2016 - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales - 19/3/16 Kelly Haimona, Luke McLean, Gonzalo Garcia and Alessandro Zanni of Italy during the national anthem Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers

The 34-year-old, who was named at lock, last played against Wales in the Six Nations in March 2016 and has been out injured for much of the time since. He has spent most of his career as a loose forward.

He is among seven changes in the team named by coach Conor O’Shea on Friday from their 35-6 defeat to South Africa in Padua last November.

Tommaso Allan returns at flyhalf after injury kept him out of the last three internationals against Fiji, Argentina and the Springboks and there are starting berths for veterans Tommaso Benvenuti at wing and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.

Sunday’s team includes seven players who will be making their first Six Nations appearance, including Matteo Minozzi at fullback, the centre pairing of Tommaso Boni and Tommaso Castello, youthful flankers Renato Giammarioli and Sebastian Negri, New Zealand-born lock Dean Budd and Simone Ferrari in the front row.

Six Nations title holders England have won all 23 of their previous meetings with Italy, averaging 40 points a game.

They had something of a scare at Twickenham last year, however, when they struggled to deal with the Italians’ surprise “no ruck” tactics before coming from behind at halftime to emerge 36-15 winners.

Italy have finished last and picked up the “wooden spoon” 12 times in the 18 years since the tournament was expanded to become the Six Nations.

Team: 15-Matteo Minozzi, 14-Tommaso Benvenuti, 13-Tommaso Boni, 12-Tommaso Castello, 11-Mattia Bellini, 10-Tommaso Allan, 9-Marcello Violi, 8-Sergio Parisse (captain), 7-Renato Giammarioli, 6-Sebastian Negri, 5-Dean Budd, 4-Alessandro Zanni, 3-Simone Ferrari, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1-Andrea Lovotti

Replacements: 16-Luca Bigi, 17-Nicola Quaglio, 18-Tiziano Pasquali, 19-George Biagi, 20-Maxime Mbanda, 21-Edoardo Gori, 22-Carlo Canna, 23- Jayden Hayward.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis