Preview: Ireland v Italy

Date published: October 1 2011

It is already knockout rugby for Pool C rivals Ireland and Italy in the RWC as they go into their pivotal clash in Dunedin on Sunday.

It is already knockout rugby for Pool rivals Ireland and Italy as they head into their pivotal showdown at Otago Stadium in Dunedin on Sunday.

Ireland and Italy have both spent the past few days discussing the merits of their respective scrums, but Italy coach Nick Mallett is eager for his players to show they have more than set-piece power and deserve to reach the quarter-finals for the first time. They did impress against USA.

“We're not a one-trick pony, not just a scrummaging side,” Mallett said this week.

“It's the right moment to say 'we've scored more tries than Ireland against the same opposition'.

“We've conceded more but we certainly have a reasonable attacking side as well.”

But while Italy leads Ireland thirteen tries to twelve after matches against Australia, Russia and the United States, an unbeaten Ireland side currently have the advantage with the only statistic that will count after Sunday's game: Pool C competition points. Ireland salvaged a 13-11 win over Italy during this year's Six Nations through a late drop-goal by Ronan O'Gara, a thought that leaves Brian O'Driscoll wary.

“Each game against them in the last 4-5 years has been getting harder and harder. We really had to pull it out the bag to beat them in Rome,” said the captain.

“We always thought we could beat Australia but it hasn't made the group any different. We still have to beat Italy in the final game.”

Although several players impressed in Ireland's 62-12 victory over Russia last weekend, Ireland coach Declan Kidney picked O'Gara at fly-half and Conor Murray – for just his second international start at scrum-half – in the only changes to the side that defeated Australia.

Ireland's all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points – a total bettered in international rugby by only Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson – the 114-times capped O'Gara was a steadier option than the younger Jonathan Sexton. But Kidney denied he had picked him at 10 purely for the kicking that salvaged Ireland's win in Rome back in February.

“I don't think I've ever in my life picked a guy just for his place kicking,” Kidney said.

“Ronan's playing well.”

Mallett meanwhile has picked the side he originally wanted to start against the Americans, with full-back Andrea Masi returning to the line-up in place of Luke McLean after recovering from the calf complaint that forced his late withdrawal from that match. A big return.

Ones to watch:

For Ireland: Ronan O'Gara has to direct, kick his goals and be a leader from fly-half on Sunday. If he struggles to get the points on the board – in what is rather surprisingly the lowest success rate of a venue (indoor) – then Jonathan Sexton will be called to take over.

For Italy: His stock just continues to rise doesn't it? Sergio Parisse was again superb for Italy last time out and needs to back that up against the Irish. Also keep an eye on right wing Tommaso Benvenuti. He can finish when given half a chance. Italy need to give him one.

Head-to-head: It has to be the back-rows. Parisse, Mauro Bergamasco and Alessandro Zanni against Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris. It could be a brutal 80 minutes in that department and there is no doubt that battle is worth a watch.

Recent results:

2011: Ireland won 13-11 at Stadio Flaminio
2010: Ireland won 29-11 at Croke Park
2009: Ireland won 38-9 at Stadio Flaminio
2008: Ireland won 16-11 at Croke Park
2007: Ireland won 23-20 at Ravenhill
2007: Ireland won 51-24 at Stadio Flaminio
2006: Ireland won 26-16 at Lansdowne Road
2005: Ireland won 28-17 at Stadio Flaminio
2004: Ireland won 19-3 at Lansdowne Road
2003: Ireland won 61-6 at Thomond Park

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera , 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Cornelius van Zyl, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea lo Cicero, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Edoardo Gori, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Luke McLean.

Date: Sunday, October 2
Kick-off: 20:30 (07:30 GMT)
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)