Thursday, November 01, 2018

Ireland v Italy preview

Sometimes I wonder what my writing style would be like for previews like this if I hadn't moved to Ireland from the USA and grew up there instead… 

Well this is sure to be a barn-burner at Soldier Field on Saturday!  Ireland, after winning the European Championship with a perfect 5 and 0 record before taking a three-game set down in Australia, facing an Italy team coached by their great former full back Conor O'Shea. 
An expert at My Top Sportsbooks had this to say about the impending matchup: "Our top sportsbooks have Ireland as -10000 chalk while Italy are at +1600 to win. Those odds have less to do with Ireland's history in Chicago -- the site of their triumph over the New Zealand All Blacks in 2016 -- and more to do with the fact that Ireland have won 23 of the last 24 against Italy and Italian coach Conor O'Shea is bringing a "B team" of his own."

Then again, had I remained in the USA, wouldn't I be more likely to be writing about the 49ers vs Giants next Monday night? I guess we'll never know… anyway,  on to more pressing matters!

Of course every test match is important, but as we get closer to RWC2019, each one carries a greater significance.  It only takes a glance at the lineup to see what Joe has in mind with this selection… explore his options beyond the preferred (for now!) starters.

Joey Carbery has done extremely well at Munster in a short space of time and will only get better. But it's in matches like this one where he needs to show he's ready to fill the void should anything happen to Johnny Sexton before next September. 

And the same of course applies to Ireland at scrum-half.  Virtually every other Irish Jersey has multiple viable options but 9 and 10 will definitely be the exceptions, and with Conor Murray currently unavailable this is the right time to look at the chasing pack.  I have a feeling Joe still likes Kieran Marmion for the time being, yet neither Luke McGrath nor John Cooney can be ruled out and we'll see what they're made of in Chicago. 

At centre we have Garry Ringrose with Bundee Aki on his inside.  The Connacht star has looked on form this season but as Leinster showed when we visited Galway, with careful attention he can be shut down so I'm assuming Joe has a way around this should he be called on in Japan. 

Jacob Stockdale is another who is arguably a preferred starter in this XV and he joins an exciting looking back three with Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway.  All of them are well schooled in ‘Schmitball’ at this stage and will be keen to make the score sheet. 

In the pack, it's tough to ignore that fascinating second row.  Joe clearly has a lot of faith in Quinn Roux - that may come as a surprise to some Leinster fans but he has been doing very well at Connacht and stands a very good chance of making the plane next year though I wonder if there will be room for both he and his provincial teammate Ultan Dillane. 

Then there's Tadhg Beirne. However settled Joe might have thought his ideal lineup was as we were winning the Grand Slam, this guy is the sort of player who makes you reconsider. Just who he'd replace is anyone's guess, but it certainly doesn't hurt his cause that he can also cover 6. 

Another who can play both lock and 6 in Saturday's skipper Rhys Ruddock.  He's part of a back row most test sides in the world would love to start with yet incredibly  any or all could miss out at World Cup time.  Sounds like plenty of motivation to impress on Saturday to me!

The front row for the bench will also want to make themselves known.  Strange to see Sean Cronin not starting an opening test without Best yet again but I assume it's part of some grand design and Niall Scannell has done very well with his chances it's true. 

Finally if anyone has to be guaranteed game time it's Ross Byrne, after being denied his first cap by the close finish in Sydney. He has quietly worked his way to a position where the third spot in our out half pecking orders his for the taking and it will be great to see him wearing that green jersey. 

As far as the Italians go, O'Shea seems equally keen to look at his options so it's hard not to see Ireland as anything but heavy favourites.  

And with the All Blacks on the horizon, we'll need to make a statement of intent to push them all the way for that number one ranking and to that end, how we keep opponents scores low will be as significant as how high we make ours. 

So as you can probably tell, I'm expecting a big Irish win. I'm not even going to suggest a number, I just want it to be a big margin, and with a hat trick for at least one of our back three thrown in. 

To put it another way, I want what some US commentators would call a “shellacking”. No pressure then!



Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019