Brunel wary of world class Wallabies
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned his players to expect a high octane game from Australia when the sides meet in what will be the Azzurri's final test of the month in Florence on Saturday.
Australia made amends for their 33-6 humiliation at the hands of France two weeks ago with a far more convincing display in a 20-14 victory over England at Twickenham last week.
With the results from this month's tests contributing to the seedings for the 2015 World Cup, the Wallabies are unlikely to put their current position of fourth in the IRB rankings in jeopardy.
Italy did well to limit New Zealand to a halftime lead of six points (7-13) in Rome last week before running out of steam after the hour mark when the visitors ran in a flurry of tries to win 42-10.
Only last month Australia held the world champions to a draw, and Brunel said: "We're playing against a really top level team which, in their last outing against the All Blacks put them in difficulty before drawing the match 18-18.
"Even though Australia suffered a heavy defeat against France they bounced back to beat England last week."
With Italy focusing on playing a more open, expansive game, Brunel made only two changes to last week's side with Robert Barbieri returning to the third row and Quintin Geldenhuys replacing Antonio Pavanello at lock.
"The return of Barbieri... and Geldenhuys... is designed to add more power to the team from the start," explained Brunel. "But after our positive attitude in Rome, we did not want to make too many changes."
Italy are traditionally strong in the set-pieces but the Wallabies notably matched England at the scrum, an area of their game in which they were dominated against France.
In total coach Robbie Deans made only four personnel changes, but only one in the pack with Stephen Moore gaining his first start since August by replacing Tatafu Polota Nau as hooker.
Deans handed scrumhalf Brett Sheehan his first test start – six years after making his Wallabies debut – with Nick Phipps moving to the bench.
Drew Mitchell will swap roles with Digby Ioane, who returns to the bench after he returned from injury in a starting position at Twickenham.
Flanker Scott Higginbotham, meanwhile, returns to the starting XV following a two-match ban for kneeing and headbutting All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
He was initially left off the touring party but replaces lock Rob Simmons after he received an eight-week ban for a tip tackle during Australia's defeat to France.
After coming under harsh criticism from former Australia great David Campese following the France defeat, last week's win – achieved by a group of up and coming players in the absence of some older heads – helped Australia make amends.
Deans said this week's changes, meanwhile, were in no way designed to show disrespect to Italy, whom Australia beat 32-14 in Florence in 2010.
"It's quite the reverse," he said.
"If you look at the men who are coming in, they are all seasoned test players. Drew (Mitchell) is one of the most experienced test wingers in Australian history; Stephen Moore is our most capped hooker, while Scott (Higginbotham) was the test incumbent in his position until the suspension.
"No one should doubt the impact that Brett Sheehan has made since he has joined the squad either. Nick (Phipps) did well last weekend against England and he is still in a position to contribute this weekend but Brett has worked hard and has earned this opportunity."
Italy scrumhalf Edoardi Gori admitted: "It will be a big challenge for us. Australia arrive on the back of an impressive victory over England and are one of the best teams in the world.
"We have to try and do for eighty minutes against Australia what we did against the All Blacks for 60."