Preview: Italy v Ireland

Date published: February 10 2017

Following respective opening round defeats, Italy and Ireland will face off on Saturday as Round Two of the Six Nations begins in Rome.

The Azzurri were comfortably beaten in the end by Wales as their inability to replicate their first-half performance ultimately cost them.

Ireland in contrast endured a sloppy start in Scotland and could not fight their way back to victory as their title hopes suffered a blow.

Few expect it to be back-to-back defeats for Joe Schmidt’s men as it’s likely to be an immediate response from a side capable of running up a big score.

One feels a bonus-point win at the Stadio Olimpico is a must for Ireland and they will no doubt push hard from the outset. Also, players enjoy a weekend’s break following this game so should they miss out on a maximum, the disappointment for Ireland would linger.

A positive for Italy to take into this game is that their last Test win at the Stadio Olimpico was against Ireland in the 2013 Six Nations. However, the Italians have lost their Round 2 game every year since they joined the Six Nations in 2000, which doesn’t bode well this weekend.

Our latest Six Nations preview for Betsafe is live, and includes the predictions of former England captain Lewis Moody.

It’s tough to see Ireland come unstuck like they did in 2013 and despite not winning a Six Nations game on the road since Round 5 of 2015, they have not begun a Championship campaign with a pair of losses since they were whitewashed in 1998. Surely it won’t happen this season.

Conor O’Shea will have other ideas though and his knowledge of how Schmidt operates is another fascinating ingredient ahead of kick-off.

Speaking of the Irish boss, he lamented their sluggish start in Scotland, blaming a late arrival at the ground as a possible reason for how slow they were out the blocks. Expect them to be on time and firing early in Rome, eager to negate the customary tough Italian first half that contains many.

If Ireland stamp their mark on the game then it should be a welcome bonus-point response from the visitors, with six points from two games not to be grumbled at as they look to build ahead of hosting France on February 25.

Players to Watch

For Italy: Called into the starting line-up this week at second-row, Andries van Schalkwyk will offer plenty for the Azzurri in the engine room. The converted back-row has a real eye for the try-line as he has shown for Zebre over recent years and will add another threat to a mobile pack. After Ireland’s strong scrum last weekend it is interesting to see Leonardo Ghiraldini return at hooker. They will need his solidity.

For Ireland: Expect scrum-half Conor Murray to feast on any gaps that appear around the fringes this Saturday. His hunger for the try-line makes him our one to watch for Ireland as with quick ball he’ll have options to either attack the inside defence or let Paddy Jackson utilise his backline. These two need to be on the same page on the communication side as Ireland look to make the correct calls when they come.

Head-to-head: We go for the blindsides here as Maxime Mbanda hopes to follow up his solid performance last week against the deadly CJ Stander. Both are powerful carriers who will be in the thick of the physical battle in Rome. There are match-ups aplenty in the forward pack with Jamie Heaslip versus Sergio Parisse also whetting the appetite, but this one stands out as two players in form go at each other.

Previous results:

2016: Ireland won 58-15 in Dublin
2015: Ireland won 16-9 in London
2015: Ireland won 26-3 in Rome
2014: Ireland won 46-7 in Dublin
2013: Italy won 22-15 in Rome
2012: Ireland won 42-10 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 36-6 in Dunedin
2011: Ireland won 13-11 in Rome
2010: Ireland won 29-11 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 38-9 in Rome

Prediction: We can’t see any slip-up from the visitors as they get back to winning ways at the Stadio Olimpico. Ireland by 20 points.

The teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke Mclean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Craig Gilroy

Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15:25 local (14:25 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)