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RBS 6 Nations 2011: Italy v Ireland Preview

Italy play Ireland in Rome this afternoon as two great rugby nations look to hit the ground running in their opening RBS 6 Nations 2011 match.

Ireland begin this match as favourite for the game. Ireland are also the team rated as the third most likely for RBS 6 Nations 2011 success, so will be expecting a victory this afternoon. However, Rome has proved a difficult venue in recent years, so it won’t all be plain sailing for the men in green, particularly if they don’t find a way through Italy’s tight and well organised defence early.

Below you can see how these teams line up.

Italy Absentees

Italy are without four players, missing as a result of injury:

  • Mauro Bergamasco (shoulder injury since November)
  • Craig Gower (knee)
  • Paul Derbyshire
  • Robert Barbieri

Italy Starting XV

  1. Salvatore Perugini
  2. Leonardo Ghiraldini
  3. Martin Castrogiovanni
  4. Santiago Dellape’
  5. Quentin Geldenhuys
  6. Josh Sole
  7. Alessandro Zanni
  8. Sergio Parisse
  9. Edoardo Gori
  10. Kristopher Burton
  11. Mirco Bergamasco
  12. Alberto Sgarbi
  13. Gonzalo Canale
  14. Andrea Masi
  15. Luke McLean

Italy Replacements

  • Fabio Ongaro
  • Andrea Lo Cicero
  • Carlo Antonio Del Fava
  • Valerio Bernabo’
  • Pablo Canavosio
  • Luciano Orquera
  • Gonzalo Garcia

Ireland Absentees

Ireland have a much longer, and more worrying injury list than their hosts:

  • Tommy Bowe (knee)
  • Jamie Heaslip (ankle)
  • Stephen Ferris (knee)
  • John Hayes
  • Jerry Flannery (calf)
  • Shane Horgan
  • Geordan Murphy (broken foot)
  • Andrew Trimble (broken hand)
  • Rob Kearney (knee)

Ireland Starting XV

  1. Cian Healy
  2. Rory Best
  3. Mike Ross
  4. Donncha O’Callaghan
  5. Paul O’Connell
  6. Denis Leamy
  7. David Wallace
  8. Sean O’Brien
  9. Tomas O’Leary
  10. Jonathan Sexton
  11. Keith Earls
  12. Gordon D’Arcy
  13. Brian O’Driscoll
  14. Fergus McFadden
  15. Luke Fitzgerald

Ireland Replacements

  • Sean Cronin
  • Tom Court
  • Leo Cullen
  • Shane Jennings
  • Eoin Reddan
  • Ronan O’Gara
  • Paddy Wallace

Recent Meetings

Italy and Ireland have met 18 times in rugby union test matches. Ireland have won 15 and Italy 3 of these encounters, to date, including the last 14 matches in succession. All three of Italy’s victories over Ireland came in the period 1995-1997, before they joined the 6 Nations tournament.

Biggest Wins

Italy’s biggest victory over Ireland was 37-29 in 1997, while Ireland’s was 61-6 in 2003.

Most Points

Ronan O’Gara, who starts today’s match on the bench, has scored the most points in this fixture, when he put on 30 solo points in 2000.

If Ronan O’Gara can get on and score five points, he will take the lead the International Championship All-Time Points record, which Jonny Wilkinson currently leads – though Wilkinson is now back playing a similar back-up role for England.

Italy v Ireland 2011

Ireland will miss Tommy Bowe, who’s pace on the wing has provided a great attacking option for them in recent years, though they do have the vast experience of Brian O’Driscoll, their captain and attacking talisman, to call upon. Ronan O’Gara as a back-up to the able Jonathan Sexton shows true strength in depth at the key 10 position, too.

Ireland’s pack are a fierce unit, though they may well meet their equal in Italy’s organised and heavy front eight, who are a serious force in World Rugby. Italy’s defensive capabilities are also right up their with the World’s best, too.

If Italy have a weakness, it is that they fail to provide the finishing touch, though Mirco Bergamasco regularly slots the penalties, for which Italian forwards are particularly adept at working.

Today’s match will likely take the following pattern: Italy will frustrate and push through phase after phase, and look to hit three points when available, while attempting to hold firm against Irish pressure when the men in green have ball in hand. Whether or not this method proves successful will come down to three key points: how strong Italy’s defence remains over 80 minutes; how slick Ireland are with ball in hand; and, whether or not Italy pick up enough 3 point kicks to overcome the one or two tries Ireland’s effective backs should be able to produce.

This match will likely see an Irish victory by ten or more points, but there is sufficient evidence from recent test matches in Rome to suggest that this could be a closer and much more entertaining encounter, should Italy get their tails up in front of home support.

A fascinating 6 Nations prospect.

Italy v Ireland kicks off at 14:30 GMT (15:30 CET) on the afternoon of Saturday 5th February 2011, at the Stadio Flaminio, Rome.

About Robin Scott

Robin Scott
Robin Scott is co-founder and publisher of The Global Herald.

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