Italy v Ireland: Six Nations preview as Grand Slam chasers to put brave Azzurri to the sword in Rome
The Six Nations returns this week with another round of fascinating fixtures, complete with the world’s best side Ireland making the trip to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The hosts sit second last on the table with one point earned from their narrow 29-24 loss to France in the opening round, where head coach Kieran Crowley’s men reminded other teams that they are much more formidable than years gone by.
There is a real energy about the Azzurri, who look like a team in the early stages of transcending themselves into a different sphere on the global stage.
However, as resurgent as Italy may be, with some impressive stars pushing through, the challenge does not get any more difficult than facing the world’s best, Ireland.
Head coach Andy Farrell’s men underlined their hold at the top of the world last time out when they beat France 32-19 in a stunning performance.
Ireland are the picture of perfect rugby at the moment, with no outright weakness in their game. The team is neat, structured and committed to their game plan, making them an extremely difficult opponent.
Everything points toward Ireland, and rightly so, even with one of the better Italy sides the game has seen in some time set to run out in Rome.
Where the game will be won
Ireland is the better side on paper, almost man for man, this much is obvious, and their relentless pursuit of structured play to launch from is imposing to any opposition. Farrell’s men come into the clash red-hot, and one would expect Ireland to boss the forward exchanges, contact point and kicking game – the cornerstones of what allows them to control matches.
The Azzurri are unlikely to match them up front given Ireland’s quality but boast some impressive X-factor in their backline. The best chance the Italians have is a quick start and try to prevent the Irish side from controlling the pace of the game. However, it’s a truly tough task to rush a team with the composure of Ireland.
Last time they met
What they said
Ireland wing James Lowe said earlier this week that the team was happy with their start to the tournament but is always looking to improve and targeting the Italy game to showcase the improvement.
“Obviously outcome-wise, we’re very, very happy, two very good wins, but there are things to work on,” he told reporters.
“I don’t want to say too much of a cliché here but we weren’t good enough in some aspects of our game and it was nice to be able to reflect on it in a down week and hopefully implement it and be better against Italy.”
Defence coach Simon Easterby insisted that the loss of influential second-row Tadhg Beirne was “unfortunate”, but he backs Ireland to deal with his absence without dropping their performance.
“It’s really unfortunate that we’ve lost Tadhg but we’re very fortunate with the stocks that we have available to us in his position,” he said.
“Other players have stepped in and the performance hasn’t dipped so I guess that’s part and parcel of the game.”
Players to watch
As expected, the reigning World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year, Ange Capuozzo, is certainly one to key an eye on. The full-back is lethal with ball in hand and is a key attacking component for Italy. The superstar has made a whopping 241 metres with ball in hand in the first two rounds, including 17 broken tackles and try. It is very clear Capuozzo will be a talisman for the Azzurri for years to come, and they need him to fire on Saturday more than ever if the side has any chance of winning.
Coach Crowley will be delighted to have his star fly-half Paolo Garbisi back in this week’s starting line-up. The 22-year-old is a sensational playmaker, and Italy always looks better with him in the side. Tommaso Allan is a quality player, but Garbisi’s X-factor makes him a very special player. The fly-half has the complete skill-set and is constantly getting better at unlocking defences. The prospect of Garbisi playing in tandem with Capuozzo is music to Italian ears, and the Azzurri will need everything out of the pair against the world’s best.
Niccolo Cannone has quietly gone about his work in the second-row with aplomb this Six Nations. He is an extremely hard-worker with 21 tackles in the opening two rounds. In combination with Federico Ruzza, the duo will hope to cause issues in the Irish second-row that is missing Beirne through injury.
Leinster’s Ross Byrne starts this week for veteran Johnny Sexton and has a golden opportunity to lock in his spot behind the Irish legend and possibly put his name at the top of the list for when the 37-year-old eventually hangs his boots up. The fly-half is a sound goal-kicker and solid in every facet of the position. He will be looking to avoid unforced errors and use the strong platform his forward pack provides to control the game from 10.
Bundee Aki also gets a start this week, with Stuart McCloskey being preferred to him in the absence of Robbie Henshaw. The centre offers hard running and a decent offload in the tackle. He will see it as a chance to move above McCloskey in the pecking order with a strong performance this week.
Ulster’s Iain Henderson comes in for the injured Beirne and has big shoes to fill, as the Munster second-row has been playing tremendously well. However, Henderson is no slouch and boasts immense quality himself in the set-piece and in the carry. So expect the star to step in relatively seamlessly without notably dropping Ireland’s performance levels.
This week’s battle is between two workhorses, both in great form for their sides and played influential roles in round two.
Italy’s Sebastian Negri was a shining light for his team against England in a game where the Red Rose dominated the Azzurri. The flank made 83 metres from 14 carries, coupled with some impressive defensive contributions. However, his team will need him to find an extra lung and work even harder this week as they face the best the world has to offer.
Caelan Doris shifts to flank this week after absolutely rocking the Six Nations in the opening two rounds. The loose forward is arguably best placed for player of the tournament at this stage after putting in 24 tackles in the opening two games. With ball in hand Doris made 162 metres resulting in a try and a try assist. The Irishman can do no wrong at the moment and shows no signs of stopping. It will be fascinating to see how Doris fares at blindside this weekend.
Italy are always brave and committed; those aspects define their identity as a team, and expect the same again this weekend. The narrow loss to France was impressive and shows this team can worry the game’s giants. However, this Ireland side is different, and they are the best in the world for a reason. The Irish power game and meticulous structure will be too much for the Azzurri in the famous Stadio Olimpico. Ireland by 20.
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
2018: Ireland won 56-19 in Dublin
2017: Ireland won 63-10 in Rome
2016: Ireland won 58-15 in Dublin
Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Pierre Bruno, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Edoardo Iachizzi, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Luca Morisi, 23 Tommaso Allan
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Jimmy O’Brien
Date: Saturday, February 25
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
READ MORE: Six Nations: Five storylines to watch ahead of Round Three as Wales and England clash after fraught week
The article Italy v Ireland: Six Nations preview as Grand Slam chasers to put brave Azzurri to the sword in Rome appeared first on Planetrugby.com.