Preview: Italy v Ireland

Date published: February 6 2015

Ireland kick off their Six Nations title defence in Italy on Saturday, but those expecting a cakewalk in Rome are set to be very surprised.

Missing senior trio Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton and with Sean O’Brien somewhat rushed back into Test action, the Azzurri could cause this Irish side a few problems at the Stadio Olimpico. Whisper it quietly, but what of a repeat of Italy’s victory here in 2013?

The bookmakers have Ireland at -10 favourites, which is a fair reflection of the teams coming into Saturday’s match from their respective Novembers. Italy though are looking to enjoy a similar result to the last time they started a Championship at home, when they beat France.

Victory over Samoa in late 2014 was much needed after their horror run of defeats. Despite that form though, there is always that feeling that on their day – and with passionate supporters in full voice – all their five northern hemisphere rivals are set for a tough afternoon.

Sergio Parisse is playing some of his best rugby for Stade Fran