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Irish to handle Italian combat

ROB KEARNEY was right earlier in the week when he suggested Italy can no longer be condescended to as the also-rans of the Six Nations.

Their previous coach Nick Mallett put in place improvements of a very South African nature. They established a solid platform and confirmed their physical attitude.

Frenchman Jacques Brunel has taken them to another level in terms of putting together an attacking system that poses many more problems than in the past.

The fact remains, however, that Ireland have never been beaten by Italy in the Six Nations – home or away.

This is Italy's best chance to break that duck. Ireland have been ravaged by unprecedented injury and the unexpected inconsistency of their coach Declan Kidney's selection issues.

The Irish have to put in place a game plan that will cope with Italy's initial surge to combat. This means a sound set-piece, both at scrum and lineout time.

As always, Mike Ross must lay the foundation as the cornerstone with hooker Rory Best and loose-head Cian Healy also tasked with anchoring the scrum.



The last time Italy completed the Six Nations with two victories was in 2007. They went closer than anyone could have expected against England at Twickenham.

The last time Ireland came to Rome, it took one of those Ronan O'Gara drop goals to get them out of a tight corner. He won't be there this time.

This time Paddy Jackson will man the out-half slot, now that Jonathan Sexton has been ruled out after failing to recover from a foot injury.

It could be Jackson's last chance to show he has all the tools needed to cope with what is sure to be a ferocious Italy in a heated environment where his defence will be sorely tested.

The outside backs could just get the weather conditions they want for the first time since they took down Wales on day one as Craig Gilroy returns to the wing with Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Marshall knitting together nicely in the midfield.

Ireland: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt).

Italy: A Masi; G Venditi, G Canale, G Garcia, L McLean; L Orquera, E Gori; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini, Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, A Zanni, S Favaro, S Parisse (capt).

Verdict: Ireland