Irish Eyes Smiling Against The Azzuri
Ireland will be hoping to make it twenty-one wins out of their twenty-five games against Italy when the sides meet on Monday.
Ireland’s northern hemisphere dominance was underlined by their Six Nations triumph earlier this year, and although their pre-tournament form was poor, which led to some pundits questioning coach Joe Schmidt’s preparation, they look to be peaking at the right time, having beaten Canada 50-7 and Romania 44-10 to set up this tougher assignment against a fellow Six Nations side.
A Murrayfield victory over Scotland was the only highlight of a disappointing Italian Six Nations campaign, and a year in which they lost six times in a row, including all three World Cup warm-up fixtures and their opening Pool D match against France. They halted that losing run by beating Canada last time, but they looked ragged in the second half of that game and were lucky to finish with the points.
Ireland centre Jared Payne sat out training on Wednesday with a bruised foot and could be struggling to be fit in time for Sunday, as is full-back Rob Kearney who is recovering from a gluteal strain. If Payne isn’t fit, Keith Earls could play at outside centre, with Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney on the wings. Simon Zebo is available and is the likeliest replacement for Rob Kearney.
Italy are missing a couple of centres in Andrea Masi and Luca Morisi, and are likely to be without vice captain Leonardo Ghiraldini who is struggling with a hip problem, but there is better news about captain Sergio Parisse, who is close to a return from his calf haematoma problem and may be available for this crucial game.
Head to Head
Italy have had the occasional success against Ireland. The strong Italian side of the mid-1990s won three times in a row between 1995 and 1997, and they recaptured that spirit again in 2013 with a stirring 22-15 victory in Rome
But Ireland have usually had things their own way in this fixture. They’ve won twenty of their twenty-four games against the Azzuri and this year’s Six Nations meeting was a routine victory in Rome for Joe Schmidt’s side as they led 12-3 at half time and ran in two second half tries to win 26-3.
The return of Sergio Parisse may give Italy a boost, but he is unlikely to be at his best after his injury lay off and based on what we have seen so far in this tournament, even the return of their talismanic captain is not going to enable the Italians to compete. Canada were able to negate their strength at the set-piece and Ireland should have no trouble doing the same.
Back Ireland -21 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.
And don’t forget, if you have a bet in the first tryscorer market, Boylesports will give you your money back as a free bet if the first try of the game is unconverted.
*Prices correct at time of publication.