Former England Under-20 back-row David Sisi could earn his first cap for Italy after being called up in coach Conor O’Shea’s 31-man preliminary training squad for the Six Nations on Wednesday.
Germany-born Sisi, 25, who moved from English club Bath to Italian Pro 14 side Zebre in 2017, made 14 appearances for England’s youth side between 2012 and 2013.
O’Shea’s group are dominated by Benetton Treviso players with 18 members from the Italian franchise, another ten from rivals Zebre and three based with French or English clubs.
The Italians are on a run of a record 17 straight Six Nations defeats with their last win in the tournament against Scotland in Murrayfield in 2015.
But Irishman O’Shea, who took over in March 2016, refuses to be bowed despite coming off a bruising 66-3 defeat in their last match against New Zealand in November.
“We know the challenge that awaits us, we have to be more competitive and work even harder to make sure the key moments of these games go the way we want,” said the former Ireland and Leinster player.
“We’ve played and beat teams like Fiji, Japan and Georgia in the last 18 months, but we haven’t managed to get a win against the top teams to give us more confidence to move a new step forward.
“We’re working and will continue to do so and to play with the ambition to achieve all the goals we have set ourselves for Italian rugby.”
Veteran captain Sergio Parisse — capped 134 times — returns after missing the November Tests through injury.
Zebre trio Johan Meyer, George Biagi and Oliviero Fabiani are not yet available because of club duty against the Cheetahs in South Africa on January 26, nor is 34-time international wing Leonardo Sarto after only joining English Premiership club Leicester Tigers in December.
The 31-man squad will attend a training camp in Rome from January 20-23.
Italy open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland in Murrayfield on February 2 before hosting Wales in Rome a week later.
Italy Six Nations squad
Forwards (17): Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Cherif Traore, Giosue Zilocchi, Luca Bigi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Alessandro Zanni, Marco Barbini, Maxime Mbanda, Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (capt), Braam Steyn, Jimmy Tuivaiti
Backs (14): Guglielmo Palazzani, Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Ian McKinley, Giulio Bisegni, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Castello, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Benvenuti, Angelo Esposito, Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Luca Sperandio
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Michael Corry)