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Thread: Ireland v Italy: Preview + Teams

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    Legend Contributor Thequeerone's Avatar
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    Ireland v Italy: Preview + Teams

    Six Nations Preview: Ireland v Italy
    Friday, 1 February 2008 12:55

    by Brendan Cole RTÉ

    Watch Ireland v Italy live on RTÉ Two and on RTÉ Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster (Island of Ireland only) on Saturday, 2 February, from 1.15pm. Listen to live commentary on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1

    Ireland v Italy: 2pm; Croke Park, Saturday, 2 February

    Is this Italy's best chance of beating Ireland yet?

    Essentially, it boils down to whether Ireland truly are in a down-cycle, or whether this horrendous sequence of results really was the 'blip' IRFU Chief Executive Phillip Browne described it as during RWC 2007. If Browne truly was talking in terms of a long game, then the first true test of his assertion is Saturday afternoon.

    Italy have picked off Wales and Scotland at low points in their cycles, but have yet to claim the scalp of Ireland. Defeat would confirm once and for all that Ireland are in true decline.

    The other factor is new Italian coach Nick Mallet. The Kiwi has wrought a quick transformation in his short time in the job; unusually for a team from which you can normally predict what you will get - bar a few tricks here and there - Italy will be something of an unknown quantity.

    Mallet has ditched some, lost the likes of veteran scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, and radically remodelled his backline by selecting Andrea Masi at out-half.

    With a certain amount of the journeyman deadwood cut from the squad in favour of youth and native players, Italy should be a highly motivated and very together group. The other idea seems to be to use the 15 stone, 6'0 and very quick Masi to beef up and speed up the inside of the Italian defensive line.

    A highly motivated, very together group with a fast defensive line?

    Anyone who suspected Mallet of trying to build his very own 'Argentina lite' would be on the right track. Masi - although he isn't a wizard in the Juan Martin Hernandez class - is quick enough to play on the wing, and his principle job will be to shut down Ronan O'Gara and Gordon D'Arcy at 10 and 12 for Ireland.

    Hernandez, aside from the kicking, was primarily used to beef up and speed up Argentina - and faltered badly against South Africa, which was the only game he attempted to play as a traditional out-half. Masi will also, you suspect, be excused a certain amount of the standard duties of a 10.

    As for Ireland, the team selection suggests that vindication of Eddie O'Sullivan's Rugby World Cup strategy is high on the agenda. O'Sullivan clearly still believes in these players, and would also appear to have faith in the ideas and plans that he and his coaching team brought to France. He has - for better or worse - stuck to his guns.

    Another disaster in the making all caused by an ego-maniacal Eddie hell-bent on sinking the good ship Irish rugby along with his own career? Not quite: there is every chance this team and strategy will work.

    As has been acknowledged in every quarter, Ireland's physical preparation prior to RWC 2007 didn't work. But if we accept that to be the case, it must also be accepted that the lethargy was a short-term issue. Five months down the line, the power and fitness problems Ireland experienced in France should be irrelevant.

    On that basis, it must be pointed out that there is an honourable dimension to O'Sullivan giving this fifteen a chance to restore their reputations. O'Sullivan himself admits that he 'made a balls of the World Cup'. To extend that thought, O'Sullivan has essentially owned up to making a mess of a major event in this group of players' careers; therefore, letting them have another crack was perhaps the only decent course open to him.

    Ignoring for the moment the debate about whether he should be in the job at all at this point, would it be fairer for O'Sullivan to have dumped a group of players he had mismanaged in a bid to save his own skin? Admittedly, that won't be much comfort to the likes of Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip and Bernard Jackman. Hopefully, the latter two will get decent chance to stake claim for a starting place in the second half of this match; Tony Buckley could also make a big impression off the bench.

    Looking ahead, at least a third of this XV must surely know they are approaching their last chance, and that those next in line will be picked if performance continues to flatline. But with five months of decent rugby in them, it is hard to see that happening.

    O'Sullivan, while he has failed twice as World Cup coach, is perfectly capable of producing a good team in the Six Nations environment.

    Given all that's gone on, it is strangely appropriate that this Italian selection is probably the most Rugby World Cup-style team Ireland will play; expect plenty of big kicking and chasing.

    Fortunately for Ireland, however, Italy are man-for-man nowhere near as good. They won't be able to control and disrupt possession half as readily as the Pumas did in France - Carlo Del Fava is no Patricio Albacete, and Marco Bortolami has been ruled out with injury.

    Ireland's lineout should make hay over the 80 on both their own and opposition ball. The Irish forwards, and their lineout maul in particular, should be able to generate the initial momentum that eluded them for much of the World Cup.

    The maul was due to be a key ploy at RWC 2007, but games got away from Ireland quickly, and it wasn't often an appropriate tactic. Even when it did get going, something seemed to happen to halt it - such as the penalties that went against Ireland when they played France. Like everything in France, it didn't work.

    Even amid the general malaise, the technique looked awesome, and Ireland's maul could be a key platform on Saturday afternoon. Another interesting aspect of RWC 2007 was the solidity of Ireland's scrum; Italy's key strength may not be as potent as it has been against Irish teams in the past.

    Farther out, Ireland will need to cope with the pace of the Masi-led defensive line. Ronan O'Gara and Gordon D'Arcy floundered at the World Cup when faced with rushing defences, but the flatness of Ireland's attacking alignments hindered them hugely, while the forwards' failure to dominate allowed defences to pack out the channels in which D'Arcy usually makes his runs. But instead of seeking to play the rush defence at its own game, Ireland need to either line out deeper, or use a chip-and-charge game.

    A more effective pack, allied to deeper alignments when appropriate, and not forgetting that in Ronan O'Gara Ireland should once again have the best out-half in the competition pulling the strings, should add up to Ireland scoring a victory more of the character of the one achieved in Rome at the back end of last year's Championship.

    Hard to see the Italians scoring huge amounts of points despite the quality of some of their individuals, although Mirco Bergamasco does seem to get on the try scorers list most years.

    It's hard to know how they'll play, with a new coach in Nick Mallet, and away from home are hard to fancy, despite Ireland's form slump.

    Ireland, on the other hand, play the weakest opposition - theoretically - first up, and should score tries. The question is where will they come from.

    The centres have been in poor form for Leinster, but with Brian O'Driscoll reportedly over a niggling injury he is worth taking a chance on. Girvan Dempsey at full-back gets on the end of moves or gives the scoring pass when Ireland play well.

    Up front, Marcus Horan might drive Irish fans to distraction with his attempts to prove himself a proper player, and not just a prop, but his propensity for hanging around on the wing could be just what a Fantasy League manager needs. David Wallace also seems to be coming into form at just the right time, and could power his way into the points if Ireland get on a roll.

    Ireland: 15 Girvan Dempsey 14 Andrew Trimble 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt) 12 Gordon D'Arcy 11 Geordan Murphy 10 Ronan O'Gara 9 Eoin Reddan.

    1 Marcus Horan 2 Rory Best 3 John Hayes 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly 6 Simon Easterby 7 David Wallace 8 Denis Leamy.

    Replacements: 16 Bernard Jackman 17 Tony Buckley 18 Mick O'Driscoll, 19 Jamie Heaslip, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Robert Kearney.

    Italy: 15 David Bortolussi 14 Kaine Robertson 13 Gonzalo Canale 12 Mirco Bergamasco 11Pablo Canavosio, 10 Andrea Masi 9Pietro Travagli; 8-Sergio Parisse (captain) 7Mauro Bergamasco 6 Josh Sole 5 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 4 Santiago Dellape 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini 1 Andrea Lo Cicero

    Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia 17 Salvatore Perugini 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Tommaso Reato, 20 Alessandro Zanni, 21 Andrea Marcato 22Ezio Galon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thequeerone View Post

    Watch Ireland v Italy live on RTÉ Two and on RTÉ Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster (Island of Ireland only) on Saturday, 2 February, from 1.15pm. Listen to live commentary on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1

    ...and how are we supposed to watch the game?

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    Aren't setanta, (or whatever its called), broadcasting it live? Even so, no coverage for me in Paraburdise....

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