Ireland seek to make it two wins from two Six Nations matches against Italy after their superb victory over France
Dublin (AFP) - Ireland hope 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.
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 – all the way in Rome, only losing 27-24.
AFP Sports picks out three things that could prove key in the match:
Italy seek to break bad old habit
Italy gave England a mighty scare but the question is can they put together two good Six Nations performances a week apart
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 backrow 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 30-24 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.
“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.”
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.”
Wounded Ryan out to prove a point
James Ryan (R) has a chance against Italy to remind Ireland head coach Andy Farrell he is still a top class lock
Sport can be a cruel world, as James Ryan has discovered.
One day you are undisputed first choice lock and regular stand in Ireland captain, when Johnny Sexton was unavailable.
The next you are overlooked for the skipper’s role on Sexton’s retirement and replaced in the starting line-up by Joe McCarthy, a Leinster teammate four years younger than you who gilds his lily by being named man of the match against France.
Now it appears that in terms of the national captaincy at least Caelan Doris has climbed above him, even though Ryan shares that role at Leinster with Gary Ringrose.
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 under performing version at the Rugby 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 sizes up Casey-Crowley partnership
Craig Casey has a chance against Italy to show Andy Farrell he and Jack Crowley can repeat their Munster form on the Test stage
Farrell with an eye to the long term future has opted for the halfback pairing of Munster teammates Jack Crowley, who impressed many at fly-half against France, and his fellow 24-year-old Craig Casey at scrum-half.
Casey gets the nod ahead of Ireland and Munster great Conor Murray, who does not even make the bench with first choice scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park acting as back-up.
Casey may be diminutive in stature at 5ft 5in (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.