Revenge provides the spur for Ireland

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The Independent Online
Ireland will be spurred by the prospect of revenge as well as the sobering threat of defeat when they wind up their preparations for the Five Nations' Championship against Italy at Lansdowne Road today.

Keith Wood's men restored some of the pride lost in their humiliation by Western Samoa in November with a creditable showing in a 22-12 defeat by Australia six weeks ago but a more significant result was the 22-12 defeat by Italy when the teams last met in Treviso in May 1995.

Unlike five of today's team, Wood avoided that particular humiliation, but he admits the result still rankles. "We owe them one for that defeat," the Harlequins hooker said. "It's going to be very tough. We underestimate them at our peril."

In November Italy were comfortably beaten 54-21 by England at Twickenham but ran Scotland close before a late try guaranteed a 29-22 win for the home side. Before those two away matches the Italians went close to upsetting Wales in Rome and Australia in Padua.

"They were a little bit intimidated when they played England, but they performed very well against Australia and Scotland," Wood said.

"Word is going round that they would not be fit enough to take part in an expanded Five Nations but I don't agree. There is a fine line between the standards in Italy and those in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales."

Ireland have a definite advantage in the preparations for the game. While the Italians were left freezing in Wales, their warm-up matches with Llanelli and Caerphilly falling victim to the weather, the Irish squad were in the Algarve for four days warm-weather training.

The break enabled Leicester's back-row forward Eric Miller, the only new cap in the Ireland side, to shake off a flu bug.

Centre Alessandro Stoica is the only new cap for Italy, but the return of Stefano Bordon enables the winger Paolo Vaccari to resume his normal position.

IRELAND (v Italy, Lansdowne Road, today, 3.0): C O'Shea (London Irish); J Topping (Ballymena), J Bell (Northampton), M McCall (Dungannon), D Crotty (Garryowen); P Burke (Bristol), S McIvor (Garryowen); N Popplewell (Newcastle), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), G Fulcher (London Irish), J Davidson (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), E Miller (Leicester), A Foley (Shannon). Replacements: D Humphreys (London Irish), N Hogan (Terenure College), D McBride (Malone), P Johns (Saracens), P Flavin (Blackrock College), A Clarke (Northampton).

ITALY: J Pertile; P Vaccari, A Stoica, S Bordon, Marcello Cuttitta; D Dominguez, A Troncon; Massimo Cuttitta (capt), C Orlandi, F Propertzi, W Cristofoletto, G Croci, J Gardner, A Scorlon, O Arancio. Replacements: A Castellani, F Mazzariol, G Guidi, C Checcinato, N Mazzucato, A Moscardi.

Referee: R Davies (Wales).