The RBS Six Nations took a dramatic turn for Italy today, as their captain and talisman, Sergio Parisse was banned by French Rugby authorities for verbally abusing an official during a Top 14 fixture on February 16.
Parisse was shown a straight red card in that contest—he will now face a 30-day suspension, unless he files a successful appeal in the next 72 hours.
The star international No. 8 claimed that the incident was a misunderstanding, perhaps hinting that an appeal was indeed in store on his Twitter account.
I have no words to thank all of you, to believe in me, because you know I will never say something like that to a ref #thanks— Sergio Parisse (@sergioparisse) February 20, 2013
Parisse's ban comes as a shocking blow to the Italians, who were looking to get their Six Nations campaign back on track when they host Wales this weekend at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome.
In a commentary sure to fuel tensions ahead of this Saturday's action, Welsh defence coach Sean Edwards told the BBC that he wasn't surprised to hear about the Parisse suspension.
Funnily enough, we were watching footage on Friday from the [Six Nations] game [against Italy] last year and you can clearly hear him on the ref's mic coming out with profanities in the ref's earshot about what damage he was going to do to one of our players if he did the same thing again.
So, it's no surprise to me that he has been done for backchat to a referee.
After a very strong September showing against New Zealand, the Italians produced the largest shock to date in 2013 by defeating France in round one of this year's Six Nations. Had the Italians been able to follow up that win with a victory against the seemingly vulnerable Scots during round-two action in Edinburgh, they would have to have been considered favourites for this Saturday's battle against the Welsh.
As it sits, both Wales and Italy have claimed wins over the despondent French, and they are part of a four-way tie with Scotland and Ireland; clogging up the middle of the tournament table.
The stakes could hardly be higher.
In order to reward the group that performed so well against France, the Welsh management announced their intention to start the exact same lineup a full week ahead of schedule.
All eyes will now turn to the Italians to see what kind of performance they can muster on home ground without their talismanic captain to lead the way.
Welsh Roster vs. Italy: (via BBC)
Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Tipuric (Ospreys).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter) Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Lloyd Williams (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).
Italian Roster vs. Wales:
15-Andrea Masi, 14-Giovanbattista Venditti, 13-Tommaso Benvenuti, 12-Gonzalo Canale, 11-Luke McLean, 10-Kristopher Burton, 9-Edoardo Gori; 1-Andrea Lo Cicero, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 4-Antonio Pavanello, 5-Francesco Minto, 6-Alessandro Zanni, 7-Simone Favaro, 8-Ratu Manoa Vosawai.
Replacements: 16-Davide Giazzon, 17-Alberto De Marchi, 18-Lorenzo Cittadini,19- Quintin Geldenhuys, 20-Paul Derbyshire, 21-Tobias Botes, 22-Luciano Orquera, 23-Gonzalo Garcia
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. To follow the author on Twitter click on the link below.