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Hooker Luca Bigi to captain Italy in Six Nations

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Rome (AFP)

Zebre hooker Luca Bigi has been selected to captain Italy in the Six Nations, taking over from the retiring Sergio Parisse, the Italian Rugby Federation announced on Monday.

The 28-year-old has played 24 times for the Azzurri since 2017. He joined Italian Pro14 side Zebre this season after four years with Benetton Rugby.

"I'm very emotional. I didn't expect this choice. It's a new adventure ahead of me and I'm thrilled to represent this team and my country," Bigi told a press conference in Rome.

"It's a great privilege to be able to lead the national team, even moreso to follow extraordinary athletes such as Parisse, (Leonardo) Ghiraldini, (Martin) Castrogiovanni, (Quintin) Geldenhuys or (Alessandro) Troncon."

Bigi will replace Italy legend Parisse, 36, who holds a record of 142 Italy caps, and is expected to play in the home matches against Scotland on February 22 and England on March 14 before retiring from international rugby.

"We had the opportunity to identify a group of athletes who will have a leadership role within the team to help develop a culture within the group, entrusting the captain's armband to Luca," said new Italy coach Franco Smith.

"Luca has played for the two Italian (Pro14) franchises and knows the players well. Everyone respects him and he has demonstrated his willingness and ability to lead by example on the field."

Italy, who have not won a match in the tournament since 2015, open their Six Nations campaign against champions Wales on February 1 in Cardiff.

South African Smith was appointed interim head coach following Irishman Conor O'Shea's resignation in November.

Smith, 47, is no stranger to rugby in Italy, having coached Treviso for six years between 2007 and 2013 before taking over as coach of South African team The Cheetahs in 2015.

He was also assistant coach of South Africa under Allister Coetzee in 2017.

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