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Six Nations: Ireland v Italy


After the magical performance away to France last week, it’s back to business for Ireland as they welcome Italy to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

The 25th Six Nations meeting of the sides will see Ireland looking for a 24th championship win over the Italians, whose only win in this fixture – during the Six Nations era – came back in 2013 in Rome.

There’s little reason to expect anything other than an Irish win this weekend after the defending champions started in exceptional form in their 38-17 win away to France last week.

Italy were beaten 27-24 by England in Rome, and although the Azzurri looked far improved from the side that disappointed at the World Cup, it would be one of the all-time championship shocks if they pulled off a win at the Aviva Stadium.

RADIO

Listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Sport, with Michael Corcoran and joined by Fiona Coghlan at the Aviva Stadium.

ONLINE

Follow a live blog on RTE.ie/sport and the RTÉ News App followed by report, reaction and player ratings.

TV

Virgin Media One will have live coverage of Ireland v Italy, as well as Scotland v France (Saturday, 2.15pm).

England v Wales will be live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player on Saturday afternoon, with kick-off at 4.45pm.

WEATHER

It’s forecast to be a showery morning in Dublin on Sunday, but it looks like the rain could clear in time for the 3pm kick-off. Temperatures of 7C are expected, with winds of around 15km/hr.

Listen to the RTÉ Rugby podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

With Ireland getting a very rare nine-day turnaround between Six Nations games, there should be no chance of complacency after last week’s impressive win away to France.

Repeating that level of performance will be nigh on impossible, but in reality Andy Farrell’s side probably won’t need to hit those same heights to make it two wins out of two.

The number one priority will be keeping the ball rolling.

After last week’s high-pressure environment in Marseille, Jack Crowley has some credit in the bank and the opportunity to flex his muscles at the Aviva Stadium, ahead of next week’s break.

Italy looked a much improved side in last week’s 27-24 defeat to England, but there are several areas that Ireland will look to exploit.

Their lineout, winning only nine of their 15 throws ‘cleanly’, as defined by the Opta stats, although they did win back a further three lineouts which England had disrupted. Given how Ireland disrupted the French throw in Marseille last week, expect James Ryan to target the Italian set-piece.

In terms of attack, maintaining last week’s improved lineout numbers will also be a priority, with the 13/13 haul by Dan Sheehan and Rónan Kelleher providing the platform for all five Irish tries.

While Italy held England to just two tries in Rome, a more incisive attack would have scored more. Steve Borthwick’s side enjoyed the fastest ruck ball of the weekend, but didn’t have the game plan to use it, as they instead persisted with a predictable attack. It was enough to win the game, but not by an impressive margin.

With Gonzalo Quesada coming in to replace New Zealander Kieran Crowley, the Italians do appear to have become a bit more pragmatic when compared to the side that ran both Ireland and France close last season.

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Farrell has chosen to shuffle his deck for the visit of the Italians, with six changes from the win over France. Stuart McCloskey, Craig Casey, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Ryan Baird and Jack Conan all come into the side.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier both drop to the bench, with Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki and Tadhg Furlong carrying injuries.

Jeremy Loughman, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Harry Byrne and Jacob Stockdale also get promoted to the bench.

Italy’s hopes were dented this week with powerful back rowers Seb Negri and Lorenzo Cannone both ruled out due to injury, with Alessandro Izekor and Manuel Zuliani taking their place in the starting side.

Ange Capuozzo also comes in after recovering from illness, while Stephen Varney gets a start at scrum-half.


TEAMS

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan; Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris (capt), Jack Conan.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Jeremy Loughman, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Harry Byrne, Jordan Larmour.

Italy: Ange Capuozzo; Lorenzo Pani, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Ioene; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli; Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza; Alessandro Izekor, Manuel Zuliani, Michele Lamaro (capt).

Replacements: Giacomo Nicotera, Mirco Spagnolo, Giosue Zilocchi, Andrea Zambonin, Ross Vintcent, Martin Page-Relo, Tomasso Allan, Federico Mori.


OFFICIALS

Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)

Assistant Referee 1: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)

Assistant Referee 2: Luc Ramos (FFR)

TMO: Eric Gauzins (FFR)


WHAT THEY SAID

Andy Farrell (Ireland head coach): “You know me, I’m not disrespectful to anyone. It’s not the way that I am but honestly, it is about us. It’s about us improving on last week, and the expectation that we’ve got within our own four walls, of an understanding of how we kick on, as you constantly hear me say, in all parts of our game.”

Gonzalo Quesada (Italy head coach): “In Dublin the focus will be on our performance and try to take a new step in our growth against one of the strongest teams in the world. We have a tough game ahead of us and it will be crucial to be able to stay lucid throughout the game.”


PREVIOUS MEETINGS:

Ireland 33-17 Italy – Aviva Stadium, 2023 World Cup warm-up

Italy 20-34 Ireland – Stadio Olimpico, 2023 Six Nations

Ireland 57-6 Italy – Aviva Stadium, 2022 Six Nations

Italy 10-48 Ireland – Stadio Olimpico, 2021 Six Nations

Ireland 50-17 Italy – Aviva Stadium, 2020 Six Nations


The Six Nations weekend gets under way at Murrayfield, where Scotland host a vulnerable looking France, with kick-off at 2.15pm.

That’s followed by the meeting of England and Wales at Twickenham at 4.45 (live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player).


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