Fri 7 Mar 2014 | 05:37
Preview: Ireland v Italy
Fri 7 Mar 2014 | 05:37
Preview: Ireland v ItalySHARE
Ireland will be looking to put away Italy and keep themselves at he top of the 6 nations table when the clash in Dublin on Saturday.
With both teams coming off dramatic loses a fortnight ago it will be the team that can bounce back best emerging victorious come the weekend.
At 10-3 up the Irish looked a penalty or 2 away from securing a superb result away from home, however they started to creek under the pressure from England and finished the game the weaker of the two teams to lose 10-13. It was a tough result given the efforts from both sides but was one that threw the tournament wide open and sets up a superb climax over the next two weeks.
Ireland have benefited from the week break with a return to the training squad of outside backs Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo who will be putting pressure on Dave Kearney in his maiden Six Nations tournament for a starting spot.
Kearney has admitted that try-scoring opportunities have been few and far between but the Leinster winger believes he has held up his end throughout.
Kearney has started all three of Ireland's Six Nations matches and while opposite wing Andrew Trimble touched down against Scotland, he remains scoreless.
"The back three in general haven't got a whole amount of ball to work off, especially out wide. And when we are in a bit of space it has all been pretty tight," Kearney told the Irish Times.
"But, yeah, I have been pretty happy on a personal level with the distances covered and yards made. I just think that if we can get a bit more ball wide, where the back three players will have a bit more space to work with, it would be good."
Ireland's most famous rugby son Brian O’Driscoll has spoken of his teams need for better defense after letting slip a seven point lead over England. Not to be outdone, Italian centre Gonzalo Garcia admits his teams defense was good against Scotland but not good enough and will need to be better against the Irish
"When you look back on it and pull it apart, I think we have a lot to improve on,” said O’Driscoll.
“Definitely our defense, and our one-on-one tackling, needs to be more accurate. Our tackle completion needs to be over 90%. When it slips below that it gets hard to win Test matches.”
The veteran centre also spoke of the possibility of Paddy Jackson starting in place of Johnny Sexton who is nursing an injury.
“I played with Jacko last year and I think he’s played really well in the first half of the season for his province,” said O’Driscoll.
“He deserves his chance, albeit he is playing behind one of the best 10s in the world."
"If he gets his opportunity he has his own qualities that he bring to a game as well, so certainly if the situation arose [that Sexton was not fit to face Italy] we are lucky that we have strength in depth at outhalf.”
Italy are still bearing the scars of their last-gasp defeat to Scotland in the previous round of Six Nations games – according to team manager Gino Troiani.
He said: "The week off has served us to dispose of anger, to reflect on our mistakes and the reason for the defeat against Scotland, We are aware that we are faced with two challenging games.
"We are focused, but without the anguish of pressure. Brunel? He still has not completely disposed of [it], that defeat was hard to accept."
Its unsurprising that the coach is still lamenting Scotland's late drop goal which cost the Azzurri a 20-21 loss in Rome. Italy once again showing that they somewhat lack the ability to close out games.
Italian centre Gonzalo Garcia admits the Azzurri will have to show more if they are to pick up their first win of the Six Nations against Ireland this week.
He said: "Our defense was good against Scotland but that's not enough. We made too many mistakes and we can't afford to do that.
"In the first half we held on to the ball a lot, but we played too much rugby in our own half."
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Brian O’Driscoll and his midfield partner are the most capped centre pairing in the game and will always be good wo watch. Another interesting player to be mindful of will be Paddy Jackson who had a strong chance of starting in place of Johnny Sexton who was nursing an injury, The young Ulster man has had a handful of matches for the national team and has shown some fine performances,
For Italy: Old heads such as Martin Castrogiovanni and Andre Masi, coming off the bench, will need to be on hand to lead the Italians as they try and forget that devastating loss.
Head to head: Rob Kearney up against Italys hard working Luke Mclean will be an interesting contest from fullback, both teams have stated they are looking to improve their defense so expect some body-on-the-line stuff from the two nations last men..
2013: Italy won 22 – 15, Rome
2012: Ireland won 42 – 10, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 11 – 13, Dunedin
2010: Ireland won 29 – 11, Rome
2009: Ireland won 9 – 38, Dublin
2008: Ireland won 16 – 11, Rome
2007: Ireland won 23 – 20, Dublin
2007: Ireland won 24 – 51, Belfast
2006: Ireland won 26 – 16, Rome
Prediction: Although both teams will be wanting to bounce back, Ireland have shown their superiority already this season by sitting on top the standings after the first few rounds. Expect Ireland to take it fairly comfortably – but not by a cricket score. Ireland, at home, by up to 14
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Andrea Masi.
Date: Saturday, March 8
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 15.30 Italian time)
Expected weather: A bit of light rain is predicted in Dublin with the temperature hovering around 9 degrees, this shouldn't have to much of an impact on the game with the wind looking to be a bit blustery.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)