The teams are up for Saturday afternoon’s Six Nations clash between Italy and Ireland. The match takes place at Stadio Olimpico, kick off 14:25. Live on ITV. 

Joe Schmidt has opted for three changes to the team that lost to Scotland. Cian Healy swaps with Jack McGrath in the front row and Donnacha Ryan comes in for the injured Iain Henderson. On the bench, Craig Gilroy replaces the out of form Tommy Bowe. 

Nothing changed in starting the back line. It’s still full of far too many instinctive players. While it’s unlikely they will show much more control than they did against Scotland, it’s equally unlikely that they’ll need to. 

The standard game plan is to tire Italy out over the first half and then pull away in the second. This time though, an embarrassed Schmidt, who was largely out thought by his counterpart last week, will be looking some sort of early response. Don’t be surprised if Ireland go into an early lead, I still think it will be close at the break. This is a far cry from the fit and invigorated Ireland that strutted their pomp against tiring sides in the Autumn. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m expecting a comfortable win, probably with a bonus point. But this team doesn’t have the feel to me of the exciting sides that Joe seemed to produce almost effortlessly during his time at Leinster and in his first few Ireland outings.  It’s an aging and old fashioned side relying on grunt rather than guile up front and on mistakes or, unlikely in my mind, individual talent to break down today’s organised defences in the backs. 

You have to feel sorry for Joe. The IRFU puts so much weight on Six Nations performances. To me though, two and a bit years out from the next World Cup they should have other priorities. This would have been a good match to give some more of the younger players, particularly the Connacht backs, a bit of a run out. 

As for Italy, well, they have a bit more to play for. The pressure will increase on their continued participation in the Six Nations, and the PRO12 for that matter. They need to show some dramatic improvements in the very near future. I sincerely hope they do – maybe just not this weekend! 

The FRU Predicts:

A comfortable win for Ireland who should feast on Italian mistakes. Should suit Jackson and young Ringrose to a tee.

ITALY   IRELAND
Edoardo Padovani 15 Rob Kearney
Angelo Esposito 14 Keith Earls
Tommaso Benvenuti 13 Garry Ringrose
Luke McLean 12 Robbie Henshaw
Giovanbattista Venditti 11 Simon Zebo
Carlo Canna 10 Paddy Jackson
Edoardo Gori 9 Conor Murray
Andrea Lovotti 1 Cian Healy
Leonardo Ghiraldini 2 Rory Best
Lorenzo Cittadini 3 Tadhg Furlong
Marco Fuser 4 Donnacha Ryan
Dries van Schalkwyk 5 Devin Toner
Maxime Mbanda 6 CJ Stander
Simone Favaro 7 Sean O’Brien
Sergio Parisse 8 Jamie Heaslip
     
Ornel Gega 16 Niall Scannell
Sami Panico 17 Jack McGrath
Dario Chistolini 18 John Ryan
George Biagi 19 Ultan Dillane
Braam Steyn 20 Josh van der Flier
Giorgio Bronzini 21 Kieran Marmion
Tommaso Allan 22 Ian Keatley
Michele Campagnaro 23 Craig Gilroy

#SUFTUM