Rugby-Brex debuts as Italy name Six Nations team to face France

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(Reuters) - Juan Ignacio Brex will make his debut at inside centre for Italy as coach Franco Smith named his team on Thursday to face France in their Six Nations opener in Rome.

Argentine-born Brex, 28, who has represented Argentina at several levels but never won a full cap, will start on Saturday alongside Montanna Ioane, who receives his second cap, but first in the Six Nations.

Gloucester's Stephen Varney, 19, who chose Italy over Wales as he qualifies through his mother, starts at scrumhalf, winning his fourth cap.

Paolo Garbisi, 20, who has held the number 10 shirt since the resumption of international rugby in October, will join Varney in a youthful half-back pairing. It will be the second consecutive game the duo has started together.

"We will face with courage the France that showed its qualities during the last Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup," head coach Smith told a news conference ahead of his first Six Nations game as coach.

"We follow our growth process to continue introducing the new generations."

The Azzurri are favourites to collect a sixth consecutive wooden spoon after suffering a record 27 consecutive defeats in the competition.

Saturday’s opponents France beat Italy 36-5 in the Stade de France in the Autumn Nations Cup in November, with Smith’s side having only ever beaten Les Bleus three times in their history.

Italy team to face France:

15. Jacopo Trulla (Kawasaki Robot Calvisano, 3 caps)

14. Luca Sperandio (Benetton Rugby, 8 caps)

13. Marco Zanon (Benetton Rugby, 4 caps)

12. Juan Ignacio Brex (Benetton Rugby, 0 caps)

11. Montanna Ioane (Benetton Rugby, 1 cap)

10. Paolo Garbisi (Benetton Rugby, 5 caps)

9. Stephen Varney (Gloucester Rugby, 3 caps)

8. Michele Lamaro (Benetton Rugby, 2 caps)

7. Johan Meyer (Zebre Rugby Club, 9 caps)

6. Sebastian Negri (Benetton Rugby, 28 caps)

5. David Sisi (Zebre Rugby Club, 11 caps)

4. Marco Lazzaroni (Benetton Rugby, 11 caps)

3 Marco Riccioni (Benetton Rugby, 7 caps)

2 Luca Bigi (C)(Zebre Rugby Club, 32 caps)

1 Cherif Traore (Benetton Rugby, 10 caps)

Replacements:

16. Gianmarco Lucchesi (Benetton Rugby, 2 caps)

17. Danilo Fischetti (Zebre Rugby Club, 8 caps)

18. Giosue Zilocchi (Zebre Rugby Club, 10 caps)

19. Niccolo Cannone (Benetton Rugby, 8 caps)

20. Federico Ruzza (Benetton Rugby, 19 caps)

21 Maxime Mbanda (Zebre Rugby Club, 25 caps)

22 Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre Rugby Club, 41 caps)

23 Carlo Canna (Zebre Rugby Club, 47 caps)

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)