Preview: Italy v Ireland

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 06:34
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SIX NATIONS ROUND TWO: Avoiding delays, and another sluggish start, away to a determined Italy will be key as Ireland look to salvage their Six Nations title hopes with a win in Rome on Saturday.

Ireland's status as potential tournament winners, following an historic first win over the All Blacks in November, suffered a massive blow in a 22-27 loss to Scotland that left them fourth in the table.

Delayed by 15 minutes in arriving at the stadium following the unplanned re-routing of their team bus, Ireland were ruffled and shipped three tries in the opening 15 minutes at Murrayfield.

Coach Joe Schmidt has demanded it not be repeated.

"I have challenged them for a better start in Italy," said New Zealander Schmidt. "It's incredibly disappointing the way we started last weekend.

"I do think it's a challenge for a professional player that they can be adaptable in different circumstances, so they can still start well and cope.

"So we've certainly given them that challenge this week, and hopefully we see a better start." 

Schmidt has resisted the temptation to rush inspirational flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, who missed the Scotland defeat with calf trouble, back against an Italy side coached by former Ireland fullback Conor O'Shea.

As was the case at Murrayfield, Paddy Jackson will be the starting flyhalf.

No.8 Donnacha Ryan and prop Cian Healy were the only changes to Ireland's starting XV ahead of their 27th meeting with Italy, 22 of which they have won.

Ireland's 58-15 win in Dublin last year was their fourth in succession, following a 22-15 Azzurri win at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013.

Yet the Azzurri have blossomed under O'Shea, whose professional approach and belief in a rejuvenated side was repaid with an historic 20-18 win over South Africa last November.

It offered fans an early glimpse of potential successes further down the road.

Indeed, for 40 minutes against Wales last week hopes were high as Italy's defence held firm on their way to a 7-3 half-time lead thanks to Edoardo Gori's 29th minute try and the conversion from Carlo Canna. 

Ill-discipline returned to haunt the hosts, Italy conceding three penalties in quick succession. They then paid for prop Andrea Lovotti's visit to the sin-bin on the hour by allowing a rampant Wales to run in three late tries.

O'Shea did complain that Irish referee JP Doyle had not given Italy a fair crack of the whip when it came to dishing out sanctions - Wales were given only five penalties against to Italy's 15. 

But he said discipline is key if Italy are to retain a winning chance, with the ball and the referee.

"We want to change the perception because we need to make sure that both red and blue [shirts] are being looked at in exactly the same way," said O'Shea following the Wales match.

"And we have to make sure we change the perception of people who look at us so that we're officiated on a level playing field."

O'Shea, who played 35 times for Ireland, has made only four changes for Saturday as he seeks "consistency" while promoting internal competition.

Angelo Esposito replaces Giulio Bisegni on the wing while Simone Favaro, rested against Wales, pushes Abraham Steyn on to the replacements bench to take his place in the back row alongside Maxime Mbanda and Sergio Parisse, who will captain the Azzurri for the 75th time on his 123rd appearance.

Dries Van Schalkwyk replaces George Biagi to partner Marco Fuser in the second row while Leonardo Ghiraldini comes in for Ornel Gega at hooker.

After a promising start on his Six Nations coaching debut, O'Shea now faces his country for the first time in the same role but said: "Ireland is where my family is, where my home is and where I spend my holidays.

"But right now my only priority is rugby with Italy. I'm not thinking about Ireland, but about us.

"We've got a mountain to climb for 80 minutes and I'm hoping for a great all-round performance this weekend."

Players to watch: 

For Italy: You can't ignore inspirational captain Sergio Parisse, who was the standout performer for his team against Wales last weekend. Scrumhalf Edoardo Gori is dangerous around the rucks and he has a neat pass on him as well. Wing Giovanbattista Venditti is dangerous when given a bit of space, while substitute Michele Campagnaro is one of the best runners with the ball Italy has had in a long time.

For Ireland: Captain Rory Best leads by example, while lock Devin Toner is a monster in the physical exchanges. Flank Christiaan Stander is one of the best players in the world in his position and will be a threat at the breakdowns. Scrumhalf Conor Murray makes good decisions on the field and he is one of the best passers in the game, while wing Keith Earls is lighting fast out wide.

Head to head: The two No.8s, Sergio Parisse and Jamie Heaslip, provide much-needed grunt for their respective team and they will also be key in getting their sides over the advantage line. The set pieces will also be vital once again and the tight fives will be trying to put their teams on the front foot. At the back, flyhalf Carlo Canna will be want show that he has more to his game when he comes up against Paddy Jackson.

Recent results:
2016: Ireland won 58-15, Dublin
2015: Ireland won 16-9, London (WC Pool match)
2015: Ireland won 26-3, Rome
2014: Ireland won 46-7, Dublin
2013: Italy won 22-15, Rome
2012: Ireland won 42-10, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 36-6, Dunedin (WC Pool match)
2011: Ireland won 13-11, Rome
2010: Ireland won 29-11, Dublin
2009: Ireland won 38-9, Rome

Prediction: Italy will put up a good fight, but expect Ireland to bounce back from their defeat to Scotland and win by 15 points at least.

Teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Dries Van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley,  22 Craig Gilroy.

Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.25 (14.25 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy with a high of 17°C with a slight breeze 
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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SIX NATIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
England 5 4 0 1 19
Ireland 5 3 0 2 14
France 5 3 0 2 14
Scotland 5 3 0 2 14
Wales 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 0