Italy are in ‘must win’ territory in European Championship B when they face the only side to have beaten them so far in the competition, Serbia, in Gemona on Saturday (20th June).
The table-topping Serbs triumphed 45-6 in Belgrade last year and hold a two point lead in the standings.
The match is the last Italy have at home, the top three sides also taking spots in the 2016 European Qualifiers for the 2017 World Cup.
The Italians have called up three new caps for the clash; Catalin Diac who has graduated from their U18s, winger Gregory Abeni from champions Lions Brescia and Ariete Este second rower Saif Mhadhbi.
Brescia’s Giuseppe Pagani is expected to have a big game after being the stand out player in the domestic competition.
“We have been training hard to put in a good performance,” said assistant coach Kelly Rollaston at the last training session before the captain’s run.
“We were disappointed with our effort in Serbia at the end of the last season and are determined to put in a top quality display in front of our home fans.
We have introduced some new exciting players to go alongside experienced names like Remi Fontana, Christophe Calegari, Simone Boscolo, Pierangelo Ceretti and Jonathon Marcinczak, who will be key.”
Gioele Celerino, who has been gaining experience with Coventry Bears in English League 1 is included, and Whitehaven’s exciting back Richard Lepori, who scored a hat trick for the Azzurri against Germany two years ago, and Sheffield Eagle Dario Esposito are also in the squad.
Buoyant Serbia have made three changes to the squad that memorably beat Russia 20-15 last time out.
Lazar Živković, Djordje Gak and Miloš Djurković take the places of Stefan Nikolić, Nikola Srbljanin and Dalibor Samardžić. The Serbians warmed up for the clash with their State of Origin Cup last weekend, Belgrade City defeating Serbia Country 24-22 in a match that also doubled as a Test trial.
Head coach Marko Janković commented, “With the win over Russia, our ambition now is to finish the competition on top. We haven’t changed our squad too much.
“We expect a stronger Italy than last time we met and that’s why we have to be ready for much bigger challenge. We’ve had few good sessions after the Origin game and I believe we will be ready.”
Dewsbury’s Jason Muranka retains his place, the remainder of the Serbian 19 coming from six domestic sides.
ITALY 20-MAN SQUAD
Stefano Amura, Simone Boscolo, Idammou El Mehdi, Saif Mhadhbi (Ariete Este), Remi Fontana (Carpentras XIII), Gioele Celerino (Coventry Bears), Christophe Calegari (Lezignan Corbieres), Gregory Abeni, Pierangelo Ceretti, Andrea Gazzoli, Luca Milani, Giuseppe Pagani (Lions Brescia), Luca Ameglio (NW Roosters), Jonathon Marcinczak (Racing Club Albi), Dario Esposito (Sheffield Eagles), Catalin Diac, Riccardo Scandurra (Torino XIII), Richard Lepori (Whitehaven), Diego Del Nevo, Manuele Passera (XIII de Ducato)
SERBIA 20-MAN SQUAD
Miloš Ćalić, Vladislav Dedić, Vojislav Dedić, Vladica Nikolić, Miodrag Tomić, Miloš Zogović (Crvena Zvezda), Jason Muranka (Dewsbury Rams), Stefan Nedeljković, Aleksa Radić, Stevan Stevanović, Dalibor Vukanović (Dorćol), Stefan Ilić, Dragan Janković, Džavid Jašari, Vlado Kušić (Partizan), Lazar Živković (Radnički Niš), Miloš Djurković, Žarko Kovačević, Pero Madžarević (Radnički Nova Pazova), Djordje Gak (Tašmajdan Tigrovi)
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP B TABLE
1 Serbia 4 3 1 0 111 55 56 0 6
2 Russia 4 2 2 0 77 66 11 0 4
3 Italy 3 2 1 0 82 75 7 0 4
4 Ukraine 3 0 3 0 44 118 -74 0 0