Paul Dobson wonders if Italy can upset Ireland?
What a wonderful week to be in Rome! The Irish have always enjoyed their happy visits to the Eternal City but this time it is bound to be more special.
Pope Francis was elected and shown off to the world on Wednesday evening in the rain and here Ireland are in Rome, 'full in the panting heart of Rome, beneath the apostle's crowning dome'.
Those so inclined could get up to St Peter's on Sunday to receive the pope's first Sunday blessing at the time of the Angelus.
Imagine that - in Rome for the new pope's blessing on St Patrick's Day.
That would be an occasion to remember.
The Irish have also enjoyed their trips to Rome because they have always won there.
Italy have actually beaten Ireland three times but those times were in Bologna, Treviso and Dublin, never in Rome.
And yet Ireland would be wise not to think this was a picnic.
After all Italy were worthy winners over France, with whom Ireland drew, and could well have beaten England last week at Twickenham where England were comfortable winners over Ireland this year.
After all it is an Italian team that does the basics as well as ever but now tackles better than ever and runs with the ball as it has not done so before.
With six forwards on the bench Italy seem to be preparing for a forward battle. Mind you they can do this because Tobie Botes can play either half.
Players to Watch:
For Italy: Andrea Masi and Sergio Parisse are class players and they have been in great form for Italy. Masi attacks whenever he can and Parisse does all that a skilful forward can do - catch, pass, run, tackle, catch high balls and win line-outs. In Luciano Orquera, Italy may just have the goal-kicking edge.
For Ireland: There is Brian O'Driscoll, and it could be last Ireland match for one of the great players of rugby history. Against France there were the touches of class that have characterised his career. Both speedy wings, Craig Gilroy and Keith Earls, are capable of surprises. In the pack big flank Peter O'Mahoney has got through lots of brave, strong work.
Head to Head: Both hookers are outstanding players - Rory Best of Ireland and Leonardo Ghiraldini of Italy. In fact the battle of the front rows will be interesting. Even without Martín Castrogiovanni the Italian front row could well have the better of the Irish front row with pliable Cian Healy. The front-row battle remains important in rugby with a prayerful wish that the scrums not be like those which blighted last week's Six Nations matches. For attacking ability as loose forwards there could be a good contest with speedier Alessandro Zanni and stronger Sean O'Brien.
2012: Ireland won 42-10, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 36-6, Dunedin (World Cup pool match)
2011: Ireland won 13-11, Rome
2010: Ireland won 29-11, Dublin
2009: Ireland won 38-9, Rome
2008: Ireland won 16-11, Dublin
2007: Ireland won 23-20, Belfast
2007: Ireland won 51-24, Rome
2006: Ireland won 26-16, Dublin
2005: Ireland won 28-17, Rome
Prediction: Expect Italy to do well but surely Ireland will not be distracted by being where they are when they are and that they, like Italy, have no chance of winning the Six Nations this year and so surely Ireland will win - by fewer than 10.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Leonardo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Alberto De Marchi, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Paul Derbyshire, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahoney, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Date: Saturday, 16 March 2013
Kick-off: 15.30 (14.30 GMT)
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Expected weather: The whole world saw Wednesday's heavy rain but it seems that Rome will be sunny on Saturday - not hot with a high of 11°C, dropping to 3°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
By Paul Dobson