WALES number eight Toby Faletau has sung the praises of inspirational Italian counterpart Sergio Parisse – but warns that the Azzurri are far from a one-man team.
The Newport Gwent Dragons star will line up against the 30-year-old Stade Francais talisman in the Six Nations opener at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Faletau, 23, faced Parisse when winning his first cap against the Barbarians in 2011, was on the triumphant side when they met on the way to a Welsh Grand Slam in 2012 and then made it a hat-trick when starting for the Lions against the Baa Baas last summer.
Last season Manoa Vosawai wore 8 for the Azzurri in Rome because the skipper was suspended for insulting a referee while on club duty but Faletau is pleased that Italy have their main man back.
"Parisse has been one of the best number eights in the world for a long time and I enjoy going up against him," he said.
"He has been around for a long time and does everything well; in the loose, out wide, in tight, chucking the ball around. He is an all-round player.
"I've admired what he has done for years and I've looked at parts of his game and tried to replicate them.
"I've still got a lot of learning to do and players like Parisse are the ones that you learn off.
"Italy give him freedom – he is out there doing what he wants and playing what he sees.
"But Italy are not a one-man side and in the back row they have (Treviso flanker) Alessandro Zanni, who is an awesome player. They are a big, strong physical side and it will be a tough game."
It takes a lot to get Faletau in a flap and the Dragons star, who last summer penned a deal to stay at Rodney Parade until 2016, certainly isn't getting stressed about the spat between the Welsh Rugby Union and regions about central contracts, funding and competitions.
"There's nothing I can do about all of the politics," he said. "Us players are leaving it up to those in charge to settle it and resolve whatever they are discussing.
"All our attention is on Italy and it's important to start the tournament well, which we didn't do against Ireland last year.
"I'm not sure what happened in that first 40 minutes and the game just got away from us, I don't know why or how. But we did show character to get back into the game and then it was a stepping stone towards the title."