Fiji-born number eight happy to replace Sergio Parisse in the Azzurri’s opening match against France on Saturday
GUILDFORD – Italy’s Samuela Vunisa is remarkably laid back for someone who has to replace a national hero.
The Fiji-born number eight is the man who has been selected to take the place of injured captain Sergio Parisse in the Azzurri’s opening match against France at Twickenham on Saturday.
Parisse is yet to recover after having a haematoma drained from his calf muscle and Italy coach Jacques Brunel gave the 27-year-old Vunisa the nod, with hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini chosen to lead the team out as captain.
“Replacing a hero in the team is a really humbling moment,” Vunisa said. “Sergio has really helped me. When I first arrived he’s always been there in my first few games.
“I went and worked with him and talked with him and the only thing he says it that we are two different players. I am big and scary, he is more of a leader and his presence is always felt.”
The contrast between the pair’s international experience is apparent; Vunisa is playing in his first Rugby World Cup match and will win his ninth test cap against France. Parisse has won 113 Italy caps, 60 of them as captain and England 2015 will be his fourth World Cup.
Nonetheless, Vunisa is well aware that he will need to be his own man on Saturday evening, though he will have the experienced head of Parisse’s long-time lieutenant in the back row, flanker Alessandro Zanni, alongside him.
“We are two different players offering something different,” Vunisa said. “As an islander I am known as a ball-carrier. It is always good to have go-forward so the backs can do their show and have their dance. For me to contribute to the team, I put my hands up and do it for the team.”
“We (Vunisa and Zanni) are quite similar, we like the ball in hand. He is a lone soldier who loves to do his work, but me and him together will work hand in hand.”
- World Rugby