PREVIEW: Ireland v Italy
INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Ireland are solely focused on building cohesion and momentum when they kick off the International Series against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
This will be the first of four warm-up games for Joe Schmidt’s men en route to the Rugby World Cup, with a subsequent away clash with England followed by back-to-back matches against Wales, this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam champions.
While Italy have clashes against Russia, France and England to come.
Ireland were last in competitive action against the Welsh in mid-March 16, and while not necessarily expecting them to immediately recapture the form that secured a Grand Slam of their own last year, defence coach Andy Farrell believes the Series offers them the perfect platform to build as a group.
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“That is the test. It’s a big game for a lot of people this weekend,” he said. “It is a Test match, the first one of the season, which is unusual for the guys. Cohesion is the word we’ve been looking for all week. Having said all that, the plan’s there. The strategy is there, but they’ve got to play the game as it happens.
“It’s not going to be perfect. No game is perfect, especially the first one of the season. But can we stick to a plan, can we adapt on the run? Can we see the game for what it is? That’s all part of the process. We have to see if we can get better as a group, that’s what we’re after. The whole point of the Summer Series for us is to make sure that we learn along the way.
“Whether that’s from a really good performance or a performance that needs addressing. Is the result important? Course it is. Because we’d like momentum, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. The important thing for us is to make sure that we’re ready when we get on the plane. That we’re brimming, that we’re confident, and that we’re refreshed and ready to go forward for the World Cup.”
Rhys Ruddock will captain Ireland for the seventh occasion and is joined in the back row by Tommy O’Donnell at openside flank and Jordi Murphy at No.8.
Devin Toner and the uncapped South African Jean Kleyn pack down at lock.
The 25-year-old lock, who won the Currie Cup with Western Province in 2014, is a project player and became eligible to play for the Irish only this week under residency rules.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) August 8, 2019
While for the Italians, Marco Riccioni and Callum Braley will make their Test debuts and Dean Budd will lead the Azzurri in Dublin on Saturday.
Benetton tighthead Riccioni, a former standout at Under-20 level, will start in the front row, while Braley is named as scrum-half cover on the bench.
He will be joined there by Matteo Minozzi, the 2018 Player of the Championship nominee, who is set to make his return to action after missing all of last season through injury.
Conor O’Shea has handed the captaincy to Budd for this game, the Benetton forward starting in the second row alongside Alessandro Zanni.
That means an all-Zebre back row of Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti, with loosehead Nicola Quaglio and hooker Oliviero Fabiani completing the pack.
In the backs, Guglielmo Palazzani links up with Zebre teammate Carlo Canna in the half-backs, while Marco Zanon wins his second cap at inside centre, having made his debut in the Guinness Six Nations 2019 finale against France.
He will be paired up with Tommaso Benvenuti in the midfield, while Angelo Esposito and Giulio Bisegni get the starts on the wing.
Finally, Edoardo Padovani, who scored three tries in the 2019 Championship, starts at full-back for the Aviva Stadium encounter.
O’Shea said: “Saturday will be a good challenge. They are a very strong team and in front of their home crowd will want to play well. It will be a great opportunity for lots of players to show what they can do to try to earn a place at the World Cup.
“I can’t wait to see Italy out there after the work we have done up to this point.”
Player to watch:
For Ireland: The Irish are fielding an experimental side thus the pressure to perform for a spot the World Cup squad will certainly fuel these men. In the pack, you would have to keep a close eye on South African lock Jean Kleyn. The 25-year-old had a stellar season for Munster, and if he manages to convey that form onto the international stage he will be forced. In the backline, centre Garry Ringrose is also a lethal presence. While Joey Carbery along with Luck McGrath would want to produce noteworthy performances giving the absence of Jonny Sexton and Connor Murray.
For Italy: They are without a doubt the underdogs. However, O’Shea’s team always punch above their weight. Flyhalf Carlo Canna has become a very noteworthy name and with good reason. The No10 has the ability to change a game which makes him a danger to the opposition. Edoardo Padovani is also a man to who can be very effective.
Head to head: The second row battle will be intriguing – Ireland’s debutant Jean Kleyn and Devin Toner against Italy captain Dean Budd and Alessandro Zanni. While another interesting tussle is at halfback, Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath from Ireland might think they have the upper hand especially behind their pack however the two Italians Carlo Canna and Guglielmo Palazzani could be a handful.
Prediction: Based on Six Nations form (Italy losing all their matches) along with home ground advantage Ireland will win this by 15 points.
Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Chris Farrell, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Jean Kleyn, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Tadhg Beirne, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Mike Haley.
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Giulio Bisegni, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 Dean Budd, (captain), 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Matteo Minozzi.
Date: Saturday, August 10
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.00 (15.00 Italian time; 13.00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Source: @SixNationsRugby & @IrishRugby