Venue: Aviva Stadium
Referee: Craig Joubert
4 wins in 10 tells its own story. Just one of those against a Top 10 side (Australia) and defeats against Wales (twice), England, Scotland and France (twice) have all hurt in varying degrees. A win against Italy three games ago cannot be discounted though as it sets the stage for this week’s game.
The Azzurri were extremely unlucky to not have beaten England last week, much of which can be blamed on the poor kicking of replacement Tobias Botes. Although the Italian backs still did not look like a cohesive, international quality unit, they were vastly improved on their poor display against the French in the first week of the tournament and showed that they can puncture defences when needed.
What to Expect:
Ireland will need to come out guns blazing in the hope of setting their stall out for a big victory, in the hope that it creates a positive atmosphere around the squad as they head back to Paris the weekend after. Seething after their opening defeat against Wales, both at their under par performance and the perceived injustice of it, they have 3 weeks inactivity to bolster their legs, while Italy have used a lot of defensive energy in two defeats to France and England.
The Italian pack will look to exert their dominance on their Irish counterparts’ right from the opening kick. Although their backs are showing improvements, Head Coach Jacques Brunel still knows that if Italy are to have any chance of pulling off an upset, much of their play will need to be focused around their forwards.
Head to Head: Rory Best vs Leonardo Ghiraldini
Rory Best is head and shoulders above every British hooker at the moment. His workrate, both during games and in preparation is phenomenal, and allied to the Irish line-out jumpers, he provides a steady source of reliable ball for the Irish team time and time again. In the loose, he is more a fluid link man than Ghiraldini, whose battering ram runs tend to put defences on the back foot. An interesting clash of styles which could have a major say in the way the game goes around the breakdown.
Leonardo Ghiraldini has been the in-form player for Italy so far in the tournament, putting in eye catching performances in the loose. Sergio Parisse has been performing well, if not unusually quietly, and Ghiraldini has stepped up well, seemingly involved in almost every Italian attacking play. The hooker will need to be at his best at the lineout to get the better of his opponent however, with the Irishman one of the most accurate hookers in world rugby.
Ones to Watch: Gordon D’Arcy & Tobias Botes
Botes struggled when he was brought on against England two weeks ago and many have been surprised with his promotion to the starting line-up for this match. Had he been more accurate with his kicking, the Azzurri would currently be riding high on a historic victory over England, but instead face the prospect of an energised Irish side on the back of a disappointing loss. The return of Alberto S’Garbi at inside centre, who was abysmal in defence against the French, will also add to the pressure on Botes.
Usually I pick a name who I expect to perform out of his skin, but this week’s one to watch is someone who needs to perform strongly to keep his place after a series of lacklustre performances. Gordon D’Arcy has been the butt of a lot of criticism in recent matches, and without his buddy O’Driscoll, he hasn’t produced the performances required to take the game by the scruff of the neck in the middle of the park. D’Arcy must play well against the weakest of the 5 opposing centre partnerships to keep the fans from baying for McFadden or Trimble once more.
Italy are improving as a side, but to get anything out of this game they will need a phenomenal outing from their forwards as well as an efficient performance from their backs in both defence and attack. This seems a little too much to ask from the Italian backs on their current performances and they will most likely come up short against the Irish. Ireland by 10. AS
Don’t rule out 2 potential scenarios: Ireland get off to a flyer and they could rack up a big score, but if they don’t take early chances Italy could grow in confidence and push Ireland close as they did last year. I have to say though, I’m calling an Ireland win by 14-17 points. MB