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Six Nations 2017: Italy vs Ireland Preview

Ireland's Garry Ringrose - not the next Brian O'Driscoll, but the original Garry Ringrose

Italy vs Ireland at Stadio Olimpico (Saturday, February 11, 10.25pm HKT)

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The opening match of the second weekend of the Six Nations sees Ireland looking to bounce back from a shock first-round defeat.

What we can expect 
Wales ramped up the power play last week against Italy, but it’s likely to be a very different match in Rome this week. Expect Ireland to get the ball to their jet-powered backs as soon as possible. We may even see the tournament’s first-ever attacking bonus point.

Italy 
The Azzurri conceded a criminal 16 penalties against Wales at a rain-sodden Stadio Olimpico last weekend – and while coach Conor O’Shea raged against referee JP Doyle’s interpretation of the breakdown, his players were not entirely blameless. It may go some way to explaining the four changes he’s made to the starting XV for Ireland’s visit, though Michele Campagnaro’s continuing bench-warming shift remains something of a mystery.

Matchday 23: 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 Mata Mbanda, Simone Favaro, Sergio Parisse Replacements: Ornel Gega, Sami Panico, Dario Chistolini, George Biagi, Abraham Steyn, Giorgio Bronzini, Tommaso Allan, Michele Campagnaro.

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Ireland 
Given Paddy Jackson is playing so well, Joe Schmidt has sensibly refused to risk Johnny Sexton for what is a must-win match in Rome, preferring to keep him carefully wrapped in cotton wool until the third-round outing against France. Meanwhile, defence coach Andy Farrell was far from impressed with Ireland’s first-half defensive effort against Scotland last weekend. While he has remained diplomatic in public, insisting only that his charges needed to ‘fall in love’ with defending, it’s easy to imagine he was rather less polite behind closed dressing-room doors.

Matchday 23: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadgh Furlong; Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip Replacements: Niall Scannell, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieron Marmion, Ian Keatley, Craig Gilroy.

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All eyes on: Garry Ringrose
The Ireland 13 has been unfairly compared to Brian O’Driscoll in the press. He’s not the next Brian O’Driscoll. He’s the original Garry Ringrose – and there’s plenty for Irish fans to be excited about that. He may even be an outside shout for the Lions.

Key battle: The lineout
Italy replacement lock George Biagi has hinted that the Azzurri have a plan to deal with the lineout menace of Ireland’s towering Devin Toner … by trying to avoid all 6ft 11in of him completely. They will have been working on all kinds of throw-in chicanery to keep the Irish guessing and set themselves a platform – but it could get all kinds of messy.

Prediction
Rome, as the saying that is generally trotted out at times like this, wasn’t built in a day – nor can Conor O’Shea build a competitive Italian Six Nations’ team in a week. Ireland by 19.

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