Rugby - Brunel bullish ahead of big test

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has never been short of confidence - and that has not changed despite the injury crisis the Azzurri are saddled with heading into this year's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

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Rugby - Brunel bullish ahead of big test

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The experienced coach claimed at the time of his appointment in 2011 that Italy had a fighting chance of not only winning games at next year's World Cup but lifting the trophy.

Yet despite having 10 of his players hurt and already ruled out of the Six Nations, he remains as bullish as ever.

"I am always convinced that the World Cup is a realistic objective," Brunel said. "I maintain my ambitions. In fact, those are also the ambitions of the squad.

"I believe 2015 will be the year to give an assessment, we still have the Six Nations and then the World Cup to play.

"My enthusiasm has not diminished at all. I spend each hour of my day thinking about the squad, finding men and solutions."

Among those absent are Wasps full-back Andrea Masi, Zebre wing Giovanbattista Venditti and La Rochelle centre Gonzalo Canale.

Italy will be led on the pitch by captain Sergio Parisse, who provided sublime moments in last year's tournament before missing the last two games through suspension.

Moreover, veteran Mirco Bergamasco has returned to the squad for the first time since November 2013 while Treviso winger Angelo Esposito and Zebre full-back Guglielmo Palazzani are the two uncapped players in this year's roster.

"We have a lot of injured players but we will try to resolve this issue," Brunel said. "We have always tried to find a balance that can give competitiveness to the team, mixing experienced players who for years have been on the international stage with youngsters that want to prove their worth.

"In terms of the forwards, I have confirmed the majority of players that we used in the November Tests."

Brunel hopes to repeat last year's successful Six Nations which saw Italy, for the second time since they joined in 2000, win two games in the competition, including an historic victory over Ireland.

"We will work hard on defence in order to return to the level that we showed at last year's tournament," Brunel said.

Italy were unable to maintain the high standard of defending for the remainder of the year, with defeats to South Africa and Samoa in the summer.

Moreover, Italy began their November Tests with a heavy defeat (50-20) to Australia in Turin.

The Azzurri then beat Fiji 37-31 in Cremona but ended the year with a 19-14 loss to Argentina in Rome.

"In June and in November we did badly," Brunel said. "The fault? It was our defence.

"In last year's Six Nations we conceded few points, t hen something broke.

"Simone Favaro and Francesco Minto are two formidable tacklers - men hunters - and their injuries have been half of our problem. The other problems were our individual mistakes."

To complicate matters for the Azzurri, they face a challenging calendar.

Italy begin the Six Nations against reigning champions Wales in Cardiff on February 1 before travelling to Brunel's home nation France one week later.

"Wales is the strongest opponent," Brunel said. "They have have so much quality. Last year, we beat France (23-18) but this year they will have a great tournament. In my opinion, France are the favourites."

The Azzurri host Scotland on February 22 before facing Ireland in Dublin two weeks later.

Ireland ended 2013 with a promising performance against New Zealand in a 24-22 loss, with a late converted try denying their first ever victory over the All Blacks.

"Our game against Scotland in Rome will be our way to avenge our defeat (34-10) in Edinburgh, where we had a terrible game," Brunel said.

"However, we must be careful because Scotland are not the same team that we have seen in recent years.

"I hope Ireland don't repeat their performance against the All Blacks last November when we face them.

"Otherwise, we will be in a lot of pain."

Italy end the competition at home to England on March 15.

"We have come close to beating England twice," Brunel said. "We hope we will be a third time lucky this time.

"I don't know how many victories we will end up with, but what I do know is that we will try to beat all of our rivals."

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