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Ireland v Italy - teams and prediction

ROUND TWO PREVIEW: Ireland hopes to edge closer to a historic successive Six Nations Grand Slam when they host Italy at Lansdowne Road on Sunday after laying down a marker in their thumping of France last week.

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Andy Farrell’s Irish side will be heavily favoured to make it two wins from two after their 38-17 humbling of the French in Marseille last Friday – a record win for the Irish in France.

Ireland, though, will be mindful they cannot afford to be off colour against the Italians who pushed an England team – featuring several new caps – in Rome, only losing 24-27.

Italy seeks to break old habit

One of many challenges facing head coach Gonzalo Quesada is eking out two decent performances on successive weekends from the Italians.

The loss of first-choice forwards Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone are blows but the return from illness of livewire fullback Ange Capuozzo will keep the Irish on their toes.

Italy pushed Ireland close in Rome last year, ultimately falling to a 24-30 defeat, and boosted by the performance against England, will be hoping to beat the Irish in their own backyard as they did the Welsh in 2022.

The Azzurri’s head coach Gonzalo Quesada believes the key to his team’s success in the Six Nations is for them to play like Italians.

“I know what I want – not Gonzalo identity, Italian team identity,” he said. “Not just the way we play rugby.

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“I am Latin. Emotions are important for everyone but especially in rugby.

“When played in Italy, with Italian players, that heart, that passion, maybe fire it up a little bit and go back to those roots.”

“Italy play with so much passion and emotion and they’re now bringing that accuracy as well,” said Ireland No. 8 Jack Conan.

“They’re so close to getting a few big scalps. You can see it when they play.”

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Indeed British and Irish Lions star Conan believes the Irish defence may have a harder day at the office than they did against the out-of-sorts French.

“It’s definitely a different challenge than France because they probably went back to being a bit pragmatic and kicking it a lot more,” said Conan.

“Italy will take any opportunity to play out when they can.

“We’re nearly expecting a tougher defensive challenge this weekend than what we had previously so we’re going to have to be on it from minute one.”

Ryan geared to make an impression

James Ryan has an opportunity to remind head coach Andy Farrell of his qualities when he starts alongside McCarthy on Sunday – he needs to rediscover the vim of old and not the underperforming version at the World Cup.

The blow to his ego appears to have had a positive reaction judging by what Farrell said on Friday.

“James Ryan’s chomping at the bit to show his worth and start,” said Farrell.

However, with Tadhg Beirne – who has a well-earned rest and sits out the match – in sublime form, it will take a mammoth effort from Ryan to force himself back into the first-choice spot.

Farrell has opted for the halfback pairing of Munster teammates Jack Crowley, who impressed many at flyhalf against France, and his fellow 24-year-old Craig Casey at scrumhalf.

Casey gets the nod ahead of Ireland and Munster great Conor Murray, who does not even make the bench with first-choice scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park acting as back-up.

Casey may be diminutive in stature at 1.65 metres, but he more than makes up for that in not being intimidated and snapping at far bigger opponents’ heels and has formed an effective partnership with Crowley at Munster.

Certainly, Farrell likes what he has seen.

“Craig Casey has been jumping out of his skin and playing well, and deserves a start,” said Farrell.

Players to watch

For Ireland: Caelan Doris, replacing Peter O’Mahony, will captain Ireland for the first time. The 25-year-old is a strong ball carrier and his defensive abilities are above board. He had a solid performance last weekend and should go from strength to strength. Another player to watch is Joe McCarthy who also had a sterling outing in Marseille and walked off with the official Player of the Match award.

For Italy: The hard-working wing Monty Ioane is one to keep an eye on, as is their captain Michele Lamaro, who will wear the No. 8 jumper this time around. He made 19 tackles which was more than any other player during the opening round.

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ireland by 25 points

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Ireland v Italy - teams and prediction
Teams:

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Caelan Doris, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.

Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Lorenzo Pani, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro (captain), 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Ross Vintcent, 21 Martin Page-Relo, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori.

Date: Sunday, February 11
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT; 16.00 Italy time)
Weather prediction: It’s forecast to be a showery morning in Dublin on Sunday, but it looks like the rain could clear in time for the afternoon off. Temperatures of 7C are expected, with winds of around 15km/hr.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France) & Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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