(Reuters) - Italy head coach Franco Smith said on Friday he and his team are looking to the future after the South African named a young and inexperienced side to take on France in Saturday's Six Nations opener in Rome.
The Azzurri have endured a miserable Six Nations run, losing their previous 27 games since beating Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015, with Smith's side firm favourites to collect a sixth successive wooden spoon in this year's competition.
Looking to turn things around, Smith, who will take charge of his first Six Nations match as a coach in the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, has taken the bold step of naming 10 players with fewer than 10 caps to take on France.
Among the young faces in the starting XV include halfback pairing Josh Varney, 19, and Paolo Garbisi, 20, as well as 20-year-old wing Jacopo Trulla with Smith planning for the long term.
"The real opponent is ourselves," Smith told a news conference. "If we want to continue on the path of growth we must first look at ourselves. We want to win.
"We are developing young players to increase the squad at our disposal and bring home positive results. We need to look to the future."
At 29, with 32 caps, captain Luca Bigi is the oldest and most-capped member of Smith's new-look side, but the Zebre hooker is happy to lead the young team.
"I have more confidence in the role of captain than a year ago thanks above all to the support I had from the team," he said.
"Having opened the doors of the national team to young players, this competition represents an opportunity for many of them to grow as players."
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge)