Underrated Azzuri To Cause Irish Anxiety
Italy v Ireland
Ireland start their Six Nations campaign with what looks like a tricky fixture against Italy in Rome.
A young Italian side played with plenty of promise in their first three 6 Nations games last year, but had nothing to show for it and that proved to be the story of 2014. Their sole victory came against Samoa in their opening autumn international and they followed that with a narrow defeat to Argentina before ending the year with a creditable but losing performance against South Africa in Padova.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland went from strength to strength in 2014. A heroic performance in Paris earned them another 6 Nations Championship, and after a successful summer mini-tour, they recorded an impressive clean sweep in their autumn internationals, kicking off with a memorable victory over South Africa, then thrashing Georgia and concluding with a hard-fought win over Australia.
Jonathan Sexton is in Ireland’s squad but is unlikely to play after suffering a series of concussions and with Paddy Jackson out with a dislocated elbow, Ian Madigan is likely to start at fly-half. Scrum-half Conor Murray is expected to be fit, as are Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip and the Ireland camp are hopeful that long term injury absentees Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy could also be available.
Italy have been boosted by the return of Mauro Bergamasco and Giovanbattista Venditi and will also rely on the experience of captain Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiavanni to guide a youthful squad. They will be without second row Quintin Geldenhuys who has been struggling with a knee ligament injury and has been replaced by young Treviso lock Marco Fuser.
Head to Head
Italy usually get little joy out of this fixture. Ireland have won nineteen of their twenty-three games against the Azzuri including fourteen of their 6 Nations meetings. Last year’s match was a typically one-sided affair at Lansdowne Road in which Ireland held a 17-7 half-time lead and scored five tries in the second half to win 46-7.
But Italy have enjoyed the occasional success against the men in green and most of those victories have come on Italian soil.
The great Italian side that featured Diego Dominguez beat Ireland three times in a row between 1995 and 1997, and in 2013, Italy recaptured that spirit with a stirring 22-15 victory in Rome. They led 9-6 at half-time and sealed the match with two penalties thanks to Irish indiscipline in the last fifteen minutes.
Given what we have seen so far from Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, it is unlikely that they will take Italy lightly and it is hard to see anything other than an Irish win.
But 6 Nations matches rarely go to plan and the Italians are a completely different proposition at home. Their poor results in the last twelve months have not matched their performances, and I think they can keep the margin of defeat respectable in Rome. Back Italy +10 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.