Friday, February 06, 2015

Preview - Italy v Ireland


Forget your province, forget points difference, and most of all, forget the past.  Just put on your green jersey and #TrustJoe.


Is this a curious matchday 23 for Joe Schmidt to put out there?  I guess that depends on what way you look at it.  For me, I’d rather focus on the players selected than those who are missing.  


First, the back three.  Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe pretty much pick themselves at their positions.  As for Simon Zebo, I have given him some stick in the past, but I have to say he took his chance in November well and seems to be coming round to Joe’s way of thinking.  Dave Kearney may have had the jumper when we won the title last season but that was because of injury...in his own absence Zebo has done well and probably would have started in Rome even if DK was fit.


Now...the centre.  This pairing has been a hot topic of debate ever since BOD declared “one more year” and nobody ever suggested putting Henshaw at 12 and Payne at 13...but given they were the two Joe settled on in November, you can hardly blame him for wanting another look at them together now they’re both fit again.  True, Luke Fitzgerald has done well for Leinster especially defensively but I have a feeling Joe puts as much stock in time he has spent coaching players at Carton House as he does time played for province.


While the selection of Keatley at out-half may seem harsh on Ian Madigan, it makes sense for many reasons.  First, there’s the obvious provincial pairing one.  With Sexton now guaranteed to start against France, it’s a one-off outing so the better the lines of 9/10 communication, the better (though Murray is such a class act there’s a case to be made that it doesn’t matter who played 10 if it couldn’t be Johnny). Then, there’s the (also obvious) fact that Keatley has played exclusively at 10 all season.  And finally, there’s the likelihood that Madigan will also be on the bench next week so this will be a chance for him to practise putting in a decent cameo similar to the last one he gave against the French.


But while our backline may be a far cry from the one we had in Paris last March, it’s traditionally in the forwards where the Italians try to get one over on you, and even without Jamie “Wolverine” Heaslip, we’re putting out a more than decent pack.


It seems the Six Nations came at least “a week too soon” for Cian Healy but Jack McGrath’s value to Joe’s setup was borne out by his selection as the “lineout maul spoiler” against the Springboks, and you can be sure Signore Castrogivonni won’t be taking him lightly at scrum time.  Rory Best is without doubt the first choice hooker and while I could easily make a case for both Marty Moore and Nathan White to start at 3, we have relied so heavily on Mike Ross in the past we know we can do so again.


The amazing thing about our second row right now is that you have to wonder where Donnacha Ryan would slot in were he fit.  I’d generally want a player like him in any XV I was naming, but you couldn’t not have Paulie, Devin is vital at lineout time and on the bench Henderson is pushing hard for a starting spot himself.  


Then there’s the backrow.  What better way to offset the absence of Heaslip than to reintroduce Sean O’Brien?  Some may say Jordi Murphy is still inexperienced but to those he can show his Six Nations medal (even though he almost lost it lol).  If I were a betting man I’d actually stick a few quid on him for the first try in Rome.  In many ways O’Mahony, O’Brien and Murphy are an ideal Irish back row, and in many more ways than just their surnames.


Last but definitely not least, there’s our bench.  Much like the starting lineup, my only question marks would be over the backs - Isaac Boss and Felix Jones have both played well of late but personally I’d have gone for Marmion and dedicated wing cover like Gilroy instead of them.


As for the forwards, what’s not to like - there’s the ball-carrying of Sean Cronin, the ever-improving talent of Iain “NWJMB” Henderson, the openside talents of Tommy O’Donnell.  Even without the names we’re doing without, be they permanently like O’Driscoll or temporarily like Healy, Heaslip & Sexton, this is a quality Irish 23.


Of course we can’t take the Italians for granted, especially in Rome.  But you don’t need to tell that to anyone involved in Irish Rugby, and seeing how our last trip there did for Joe Schmidt’s predecessor, noone will be more sure of that than he.


But as I said earlier today when I was harping on my likes & dislikes about the Six Nations, if we are to aim high in 2015, with all due respect to Jacques Brunel, Sergio Parrisse & co, we have to feel we have the quality to beat them.  And what’s more I’m tipping us to outdo the bookies’ 10-point spread in Rome, something closer to 14-16 points.


Forget your province, forget points difference, and most of all, forget the past.  Just put on your green jersey and #TrustJoe.

#ShoulderToShoulder  JLP


ITALY : 15 Masi 14 Sarto 13 Campagnaro 12 Morisi 11 McLean 10 Haimona 9 Gori
1 Aguero 2 Ghiraldini 3 Castrogiovanni 4 Furno 5 Biagi 6 Zanni 7 Minto 8 Parisse (c)
16 Manici 17 De Marchi Al 18 Chistolini 19 Fuser 20 Barbini 21 Palazzani 22 Allan 23 Venditti

Saturday. February 7
Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 2:30pm (Irish time)
Ref : Pascal Gauzere (FFR) 
AR1 : Wayne Barnes (RFU) 
AR2 : Stuart Berry (SARU)
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