Date: Sunday, October 2, 2011
Time: 8:30pm (NZDT)/8:30am (BST)
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (RSA)
It seems the organisers knew what they were doing when they set the schedule – this contest being the last of the pool stages means we won’t know the make-up of the quarter-final draw until the last possible moment. The equation is simple – the winners get the bus to the next match, the losers get the plane home.
After their performance against Australia, there would have been a strong case for Declan Kidney to go with the exact same side for this one but he has opted for Ronan O’Gara at 10 instead. It is probably the wise choice as the Italians will need to mix things up and are likely to get pinged so the Munster star’s superior kicking stats should come into play. And there is also a change at 9 where the provincial pairing is preserved with the inclusion of Conor Murray, who needs a massive performance on Sunday.
Coach Nick Mallett was quick to talk the talk after his side’s bonus-point try victory over the USA by claiming his team had the better front row. But when it comes to walking the walk, he was covering for the fact that despite the fact his squad has two fewer days rest, he can only afford to make one change to his starting line-up, albeit a significant one with Andrea Masi who impressed in the last Six Nations campaign coming in at full back. Mallett will be looking to his charges to give their all as should they lose, not only are they out of the tournament, but it’s his last game at the helm.
What to expect:
Expect a bruising battle in the forwards, which means the outcome could well rest totally in the whistle of Jonathan Kaplan. Italy may have a quality pack, but Ireland’s aren’t far behind them – in actual fact when you look beyond the front row the Irish are more than a match for their opponents. Ireland should look to get whatever points on the board they can in the first quarter. Should there be any back play, I see the Italians bringing it back into the phases as soon as they can, with the Irish using their back three to bore holes down the middle.
All eyes on:
Conor Murray – Ronan O’Gara deserved his Man-of-the-Match accolade against Russia, but in open play he is unlikely to get anywhere near as much space in Dunedin. For this reason the ball to him must be quick – Murray has many talents but speed of passing from the base of the ruck isn’t at the top of them. However, when Ireland have possession in the Italian red zone, I’d back the youngster’s strength to nick a decisive try.
Martin Castrogiovanni – He is the key to the Italian front row, and they will be counting on every ounce of his big game experience to get the upper hand on their counterparts in any way possible.
Head to Head: Jamie Heaslip v Sergio Parisse
I’m taking a serious punt here and predicting one of these two will be named Man-of-the-Match. They’ll both be wearing 8, but their roles couldn’t be further removed from each other. Many would consider Jamie to have been very quiet at this World Cup so far – I believe he has taken on the role normally given to 7s in the loose the free up Sean O’Brien. He is due a marquee performance and this could be his time.
Meanwhile his opposite number must not only lead his side from the front, he must also master a skill he has struggled with so far in this tournament – controlling the ball at the back of the scrum. If he manages this and is his usual rampaging self in the loose it will have a positive affect on the entire team.
Last fixture: It took a last second drop goal from O’Gara to rescue a 13-11 victory for Ireland from a Six Nations encounter in Rome last February.
Weather: Forecast for Sunday evening in Dunedin is “a mix of cloudy and clear skies”. Temp 9°C
Prediction: The key to Ireland winning this has to be in their own confidence. They shone as underdogs against the Wallabies but they’re comfortable favourites here whether they like it or not. I believe the coaching staff will have them ready and although there may be a scare or two early on they’ll get the job done and win by ten.
by JL Pagano