There is no risk of defending Six Nations champions Ireland underestimating Italy in Saturday’s clash at Stadio Olimpico.
Once was enough for Ireland.
The last time the Irish were in Rome, to finish the 2013 Six Nations, they lost to Italy (22-15) for the first time in the tournament.
“They are at their best … at home,” said lock Devin Toner.
“So we’re under no illusions that it will be a lot tougher than people think.
“They’ve got a vast amount of experience, and they’re very, very passionate at home, so we’ve got a very tough game ahead of us. We’ll let everyone else think about points difference and all that. Literally, our sole focus is getting the win in Rome.”
The form-book backs Ireland to win, and kickstart a campaign to accomplish successive championships for the first time in 66 years.
Loosehead prop Jack McGrath reckons they can deal a psychological blow by getting on top in the scrums, in which the Italians take great pride. He will mark tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni, who has 95 more caps than McGrath’s dozen.
“They really want to shove their scrum in your face,” said McGrath.
“Their lineout maul too, that’s their bread and butter and where they pride themselves the most. If we can meet them in that area and maybe go one better, that’s what we ideally want to do. But it’s not just doing it once; it’s doing it every time.
“So it’s up to us as a pack to really get stuck into them early, and turn it around on them. They are unbelievably passionate people so it will be really tough.”
Italian confidence was high after winning two matches in 2013, then evaporated as Italy failed to win a match last year for the first time in five years. Avoiding embarrassment is the main goal this time.
“There’s a different spirit now,” said scrum-half Edoardo Gori.
“We are a lot more calm. There’s not that tension that maybe we put on ourselves after two victories in the 2013 Six Nations.”
Head coach Jaqcues Brunel says starting with a clash against the favourites, is tough, “but will give us a bit of an impression of our ambitions this year.”
“We beat them two years ago, and we hope to have that spirit in the first game. And we hope that Ireland won’t be at a high level right from the start of the tournament.”