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Italy v Ireland: Everything you need to know

Italy coach Conor O’Shea

Joe Schmidt believes Italy boss Conor O’Shea will have insider knowledge on Ireland’s tactical approach ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting at the Stadio Olimpico.

Italy host Ireland in Rome with both teams coming off defeats in the opening round of fixtures. Ireland lost 27-22 to Scotland while Italy were beaten 33-7 by Wales.

The visitors will again be without Jonathan Sexton as he misses out with a calf injury. Captain Rory Best missed their final training session through illness but Ireland are hopeful he will play.

Italy skipper Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, has been passed fit despite sustaining a neck problem last weekend.

Former Harlequins coach O’Shea is going up against his home nation, who trained at the Premiership club during the 2015 Rugby World Cup – a decision that could now be of benefit to Italy.

“We trained with Harlequins in the World Cup which was great fun and great preparation,” Schmidt told RTE Sport. “I think Conor got a good look at how we train and what we try to do. He potentially can use that to his advantage now.”

 

HEAD TO HEAD

Italy: 4

Ireland: 22

Draw: 0

 

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?

Having drawn with Wales and lost to France and England, Ireland’s chances of winning a third consecutive title had evaporated by the time they welcomed Italy to Dublin.

But Ireland got back to winning ways in superb style, running in nine tries in a 58-15 demolition of the Azzurri.

Ireland led 25-3 at the break and were relentless in piling further misery on Italy after the restart. Number eight Jamie Heaslip was an unlikely talisman, scoring two tries.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Simone Favaro (Italy)

Troubled by shoulder and ankle injuries in recent times, Simone Favaro was not risked for the tournament opener. But the big-hitting Glasgow Warriors flanker is back in the pack for this one and, after fading against Wales, Italy will need his physicality if they are to hold firm against an Ireland side that initially had difficulty getting through the Scotland defence.

Paddy Jackson (Ireland)

With Sexton again out, the onus will fall on Paddy Jackson to produce a performance after a strong showing in the loss at Murrayfield. He converted his own 61st-minute try to give Ireland what looked to be a decisive lead and the Ulster fly-half should have plenty of opportunity to flourish in a game Ireland will be expected to dominate.

 

THE LINE-UPS

Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Fuser, Andries van Schalkwyk, Maxime Mbanda, Simone Favaro, Sergio Parisse (captain).

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

 

COACH COMMENTS

Conor O’Shea (Italy): “Ireland is my home, my family, it’s the place where we spend the holidays. It’s the country where I grew up and where I always wanted to play. But now my only objective is Italian rugby. So I don’t think of Ireland but only of us, Italy. We face a mountain to climb for 80 minutes, so I hope we’re ready for a big game this weekend.”

Joe Schmidt (Ireland): “I have challenged them for a better start in Italy. I think it’s incredibly disappointing the way we started last weekend. We were really disappointed with the way we started. They scored three tries in those first 25 minutes, then didn’t score another try after that. And I think that reflects what the team were capable of, but unfortunately then you’re chasing things. So we’ve certainly given them that challenge this week, and hopefully we see a better start.”

 

OPTA STATS

– Ireland have won 16 of their 17 encounters with Italy in Six Nations, including each of their last three, with their only blemish a 22-15 loss in the final round of the 2013 tournament.

– That victory against Ireland in the final round of the 2013 tournament was the last time Italy tasted success on home turf, having since lost eight consecutive games by an average margin of 26 points.

– Ireland haven’t won away from home in the Six Nations since the final round of the 2015 tournament, losing their last three on the road; never before in the Six Nations have they lost more away games in succession.

Giovanbattista Venditti has scored four tries at Stadio Olimpico, including one against Ireland, which is the equal most of any player in Test rugby at the venue and twice as many as any of his Azzurri team-mates.

– Paddy Jackson made four clean breaks in the opening round of fixtures, more than any other player; it was also the most he’d ever made in an Ireland shirt after making just six clean breaks in total in his previous 19 appearances.

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Jon 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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