Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
6 Nations defending champion Ireland gets their campaign underway in Rome. These two teams could not be more poles apart in terms of form at international test rugby. Ireland is riding an almost unprecedented high whereas Italy is struggling as much as ever.
Ireland travel to Rome with an impressive recent record. In the northern autumn internationals they gathered in two Southern Hemisphere scalps in the most impressive of fashion. Firstly South Africa crumbled to a magnificent Ireland 29-15 and then Ireland pipped Australia 26-23. In addition Ireland, with very much a mixed combination of experienced players and rookies, took Georgia apart 49-7, all games at Aviva Stadium. They do have a problem in that a number of crucial top players are missing. Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton sit out this one.
Italy on the other hand have rumbled from the indifferent to the hoe-hum in the last six months. They lost away to Fiji, Samoa and Japan in June. They recovered a little in the autumn internationals to defeat Samoa, but then lost to Argentina and South Africa, the later 6-22. Keep in mind that Ireland put South Africa to the sword earlier in November.
Italy has pretty much preserved their highly experienced pack which has struggled to dominate opponents lately. Strangely, at the same time as the pack has begun to lose a little omph their backline has looked positively dangerous at times. Oh dear. Oh for the balance! Do I spot Jacques Brunel losing a little more hair?
Last Five Encounters
08.03.2014 Ireland 46-7 in Dublin (6 Nations)
16.03.2013 Italy 22-15 in Rome (6 Nations)
25.02.2012 Ireland 42-10 in Dublin (6 Nations)
05.02.2011 Ireland 13-11 in Rome (6 Nations)
06.02.2010 Ireland 29-11 in Dublin (6 Nations)
Having waxed lyrical Ireland’s praises a quick look at the stats and they show something different. Ireland always struggles in Rome. They struggled so much in 2013 that they lost! Oh how did the Italians celebrate! The message is Ireland beware.
GWC Rugby Rankings
World Table: Ireland 1st, Italy 8th
Europe Table: Ireland 2nd, Italy 5th
IRB Ranking Points
Ireland 85.48, Italy 71.19
Prediction: Italy to provide bite in the first half. Their pack giving way to the Irish in the second half but expect some dashing Italian back play.Pardon did I hear you say? Ireland will lack their usual fluency without some top players but will do enough to win.
Ireland, eventually, by 10 points.
15 Andrea Masi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (Capt.), 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 George Biagi, 4 Joshua Furno,
3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Gulgielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Head Coach: Jacques Brunel
15 Robert Kearney, 14 Thomasa Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robert Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (Capt.), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Ross,
2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
16 Sean Cronin, 17 James Cronin, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson,
20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.
Head Coach: Joe Schmidt.