Saturday 19 January 2019

O'Driscoll and O'Connell must rally troops

This is not so much a banana skin Ireland can slip-up on as a battering ram that could run right over them unless there is total commitment to the cause.

The savage influence of multiple injuries to the back three and back row have decimated coach Declan Kidney's options and made the precious approach of the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme seem over-protective.

Italy will bring all their tools to the table, a rock-solid scrum, a competitive aerial threat and a potent back row led by the totemic Sergio Parisse, if passed fit for this purpose.

For the first time, in a long time, Ireland will travel knowing that defeat is not just a long shot. It is conceivable that Italy's forensic coach Nick Mallett will identify weaknesses and exploit them.

Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton must bring his kicking boots and make the home side pay for every misdemeanour within his range. This is vital.

Missed kicks, missed tackles and simple mistakes from Ireland will all add fuel to the Italian fire.

They cannot afford to give them encouragement.

As always, the generals will have to come to the fore. Captain Brian O'Driscoll and leader of the pack Paul O'Connell (pictured above) will have to make sure heads are kept clear.

Ireland have to rise above the 'niggle' that can suck them down into the trenches. They don't want a dogfight in this kennel. The very Munster commitment of Declan Kidney to Donncha O'Callaghan and Tomás O'Leary (pictured far left), especially in his current form, is not based on anything other than their past achievements. They owe their coach 80 minutes of impact.

Verdict: Ireland

Italy: L McLean; A Masi, G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco; K Burton, E Gori; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, S Dellape, Q Geldenhuys, J Sole, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).

Ireland: L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, D Leamy, D Wallace, S O'Brien.

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