The opening 20 minutes of the game saw Ireland at their clinical best, dominating at the breakdown and keeping Italy pinned inside their own half through the boot of Jonathan Sexton. Although given he had a haematoma drained from his calf in order to play against Ireland there are major questions over his fitness.
Ireland should gain at least an equal footing in the pack, and with that, their backline should come out of this game at least a couple of tries to the better on the scoreboard. We will have to wait and see if that’s enough against France or whether they take more risks.
Ireland’s imprecision in phase play around the ruck edge nearly cost them dear at the top of the second half. But if Ireland are disciplined, the gaps and holes will appear after that for them to exploit.
In the Six Nations, they won 26-3 in Rome, and were expected to dispatch an Italy side which fired only in spurts at the World Cup in a loss to France and narrow win over Canada.
Rob Kearney and Jared Payne miss out with minor injuries, but Schmidt has an ample supply of in-form players to provide back up, with Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe given another chance to impress. His challenge on Joshua Furno in the corner not only dragged the Italian’s foot into touch, but also wrapped up the ball to prevent him touching down even if he had stayed in-field.
“I think there was considerable excitement about a few of the things we wanted to do with the ball”.
Italy’s only victory over Ireland since 1997 came in 2013, when Declan Kidney was in the last throes of power with the national side.
For the Irish – one of the two teams on maximum possible points after making short work of Canada and Romania – Parisse is the one player capable of lifting Italy to an upset.
That defeat – before Schmidt took over – haunts the Irish squad.
A week after being largely responsible for the biggest ever World Cup attendance when Ireland’s large expatriate community and travelling fans packed out London’s Wembley Stadium, it was the turn of the 54,000 capacity Olympic Stadium to more closely resemble a home fixture in Dublin. No. 8 Jamie Heaslip speared off, Sexton’s ran to the line and his inside pass hit Robbie Henshaw in a gap, and center partner Keith Earls was there for the offload on the line.
Replacements: 16-Davide Giazzon, 17-Michele Rizzo, 18-Dario Chistolini, 19-Alessandro Zanni, 20-Mauro Bergamasco, 21-Guglielmo Palazzani, 22-Carlo Canna, 23-Tommaso Benvenuti.
Today’s match is schedule to begin at 4.45pm and will be televised live on ITV.