Ireland v Italy preview: Andy Farrell’s side to hammer home Six Nations dominance with solid win over the Azzurri

David Skippers
Jack Crowley and Paolo Garbisi image 2024.jpg

Ireland fly-half Jack Crowley and Italy counterpart Paolo Garbisi.

We preview the weekend’s final Six Nations fixture which sees Italy heading to Dublin to take on defending champions Ireland in what promises to be an entertaining encounter.

These two teams go into this fixture at opposite ends of the Six Nations spectrum after contrasting fortunes during the Championship’s opening round of matches last weekend.

Ireland made an early statement of intent as they got their campaign off to an outstanding start courtesy of an emphatic 38-17 bonus-point triumph against France in Marseille.

Meanwhile, the Azzurri were involved in a tight tussle in Rome against England but after an impressive start – in which they raced into an early 10-0 lead and led 17-14 at half-time – they fell off the pace in the second half before suffering a 27-24 defeat.

With Ireland making changes to their line-up after that win over Les Bleus, Italy might fancy their chances of causing an upset. However, the Azzurri suffered a double setback after star back-rowers Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone were ruled out through injury, although they are boosted by the return of backline star Ange Capuozzo, who was a late withdrawal ahead of the England clash due to sickness.

Both Ireland and Italy have shown great intent on attack in recent years and although Andy Farrell‘s troops have seen greater rewards coming their way, this encounter should be a thrilling one filled with plenty of end-to-end action.

Where the game will be won

With both sides set to entertain us with their attacking styles of play, the forward battle will be huge and each of the two sets of packs will be determined to gain the upper hand up so that they can provide their respective backlines with solid front foot ball.

Whichever team manages to master that aspect of the game should come out on top but that is easier said than done as both these sides hardly set the world alight in the forward exchanges last weekend.

While Ireland’s pack had some good moments against Les Bleus, it will be interesting to see how their scrum holds up against the Azzurri as despite dominating proceedings against France, they struggled in that facet of play and finished with a scrum win rate of under 75%. Meanwhile, Italy’s scrum stood strong against England and had an 85.71% win rate.

Last time they met

What they said

The Azzurri’s Argentinian head coach Gonzalo Quesada believes the key to his team’s success in the Six Nations is for them to play like Italians.

“I know what I want — not Gonzalo identity, Italian team identity,” he said. “Not just the way we play rugby.

“I am Latin. Emotions are important for everyone but especially in rugby.

“When played in Italy, with Italian players, that heart, that passion, maybe fire it up a little bit and go back to those roots.”

Meanwhile, despite dominating this fixture in recent years, Ireland back-row Jack Conan expects a tough challenge against Italy.

“They’re a quality side. They really are,” he said. “You see that again, some of the tries they scored against England at the weekend, they’re more than capable of pulling off a few scalps and I think you have the feeling that it’s coming, so there’s no easy games and we’re under no illusions that this is going to be tough.

“I know it was a massive win [against France] but Italy pose a completely different attacking picture and they will play from anywhere and take any opportunity, so it’s going to be a massive defensive challenge for us.”

Players to watch

With Peter O’Mahony sidelined for this encounter, Caelan Doris will captain Ireland for the first time. The 25-year-old is strong on either side of the ball with his ball carrying and defensive abilities amongst the best in the business and he will be keen to build on a solid display against Les Bleus last weekend. The Leinsterman has also been shifted to the unfamiliar role of openside flanker and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to his new position while also taking on the added responsibility of leadership.

One player who really took full advantage of his opportunity against France was young second-row Joe McCarthy, who stole the show with an outstanding all-round performance in Marseille and walked off with the official Player of the Match award afterwards. The 22-year-old caught the eye with a superb all-round effort as he shone in the lineouts, on attack and defence and a similar effort will be appreciated by the Aviva Stadium faithful this weekend.

Another player who will be keen to impress for the Irish is scrum-half Craig Casey, who gets a rare start in the run-on side for his country. The 24-year-old will be expected to provide a solid service to his outside backs and his combination in the half-backs with Munster team-mate Jack Crowley will be closely scrutinised as Ireland look to continue their winning run in the Championship.

One man who has proven invaluable to to the Azzurri cause is their captain Michele Lamaro, who, like Doris, is set to make a positional switch in the back-row. Usually on the openside, the 25-year-old will pack down at number eight due to an injury to Lorenzo Cannone. Lamaro was one of Italy’s standout performers against England as he carried solidly and finished with 19 tackles made which was more than any other player during the opening round. He will be hoping to replicate that effort against Italy.

Also keep an eye on speedster Monty Ioane, who did well in the narrow defeat to England as he came to the fore with a superb attacking display. The 29-year-old is a hard-working wing who keeps defences honest with his brilliant attacking skills. Against England, he finished with 77 metres gained from 12 runs and was rewarded with a fine try. He is sure to test the Irish defence on Sunday, as is the exciting Ange Capuozzo.

And although his not in the run-on side this week, Tommaso Allan could make an impact off the bench in the game’s latter stages, especially off the kicking tee. Allan scored a try against England to become Italy’s top try scorer (8) in the men’s Six Nations, while his tally of 12 points saw him became his country’s top point scorer in the Championship (165), surpassing Diego Dominguez (162). He also passed the 500-point mark in his Test career overall in that Test (501).

Main head-to-head

The battle between the fly-halves is usually a crucial one in any Test and the duel between Ireland’s Jack Crowley and Italy’s Paolo Garbisi pits two of the game’s most promising young playmakers against each other.

Crowley came into the Six Nations under tremendous pressure as he replaced the great Johnny Sexton as his country’s first choice number 10 but despite some nervy moments early on against France, he soon settled into his role and took control of proceedings as the match progressed. A similar performance against the Azzurri will cement his position in the men from the Emerald Isle’s run-on side but it will not be an easy ride against Garbisi, who, like Crowley, possesses an outstanding skill set.

Garbisi had some good moments against England as he managed to get his backline firing and the Azzurri were rewarded with three well-taken tries. He will have to hit the ground running at the Aviva Stadium as Italy usually impress when he is on song.


Despite making several changes to their run-on side, Ireland still have a strong spine, which will give them an edge on their visitors. Like last weekend, the Azzurri will start brightly but will not be able to be competitive for the full 80 minutes and Ireland will dominate proceedings during the final quarter. Ireland to win by 24 points.

Previous results

2023: Ireland won 33-17 in Dublin
2023: Ireland won 34-20 in Rome
2022: Ireland won 57-6 in Dublin
2021: Ireland won 48-10 in Rome
2020: Ireland won 50-17 in Dublin
2019: Ireland won 29-10 in Dublin
2019: Ireland won 26-16 in Rome
2018: Ireland won 54-7 in Chicago

The teams

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Caelan Doris (c), 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour

Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Lorenzo Pani, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro (c), 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, Andrea Zambonin, 20 Ross Vintcent, 21 Martin Page-Relo, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori

Date: Sunday, February 11
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

READ MORE: Nick Easter’s Six Nations predictions: One away win on the cards and the ‘test’ Wales will provide England