Azzurri have Magners snub point to prove, warns Heaslip

Ireland begin their quest to win back-to-back Grand Slams when they open their Six Nations defence against Italy at Croke Park today.

After ending their 61-year wait for a Grand Slam, captain Brian O'Driscoll wants Ireland to build on that triumph. "There's an element of the monkey now being off our back," he said. "You just forget that and look to another campaign, putting the same pressure on yourself to perform. We've spoken about expectations and we know we can't remain stagnant otherwise other teams will pass us by."

O'Driscoll has been reunited with Leinster team-mate Gordon D'Arcy in the midfield, a partnership that has proved effective in the past. D'Arcy has been rewarded for his fine club form, displacing Ulster's Paddy Wallace. "I'm pleased that Gordon is back. It took him time, a while to get back from that broken arm – he was out for a year," O'Driscoll added.

While Italy are favourites to finish bottom of the Six Nations again, Jamie Heaslip fears the Azzurri could be out for revenge after the club sides were refused entry to the Magners League.

"Italy are a class outfit and they might feel they have something to prove," Heaslip said. "They might have something against the Irish team now that Italy didn't get the nod for the Magners League. We play against the Italian players in the Heineken Cup – they're big and they bash you about. They hit hard, have some skilful players and seriously good finishers."

The Italy coach, Nick Mallett, will use the same squad from November's win over Samoa that ended a 13-game losing streak, including all five in last season's Six Nations.

Ireland v Italy: Croke Park teams

Ireland

Kearney (Leinster) 15

Bowe (Ospreys) 14

O'Driscoll (Leinster) 13

D'Arcy (Leinster) 12

Trimble (Ulster) 11

O'Gara (Munster) 10

O'Leary (Munster) 9

Healy (Leinster) 1

Flannery (Munster) 2

Hayes (Munster) 3

Cullen (Leinster) 4

O'Connell (Mun, c) 5

McLaughlin (Leinster) 6 

Wallace (Munster) 7

Heaslip (Leinster) 8

Replacements:

16 Best (Ulster); 17 Court (Ulster); 18 Ryan (Munster); 19 O'Brien (Leinster); 20 Reddan (Leinster); 21 Wallace (Ulster); 22 Earls (Munster)

Italy

McLean (Treviso) 15

Robertson (Viadana) 14

Canale (Clermont) 13

Garcia (Treviso) 12

Mi Bergamasco (Stade) 11

Gower (Bayonne) 10

Tebaldi (Parma) 9

Perugini (Bayonne) 1

Ghiraldini (Treviso, c) 2

Castrogiovanni (Leic) 3

Del Fava (Viadana) 4

Geldenhuys (Viadana) 5

Sole (Viadana) 6

Ma Bergamasco (Stade) 7

A Zanni (Treviso) 8

Replacements: 16 Ongaro; 17 Aguero (both Saracens); 18 Bortolami (Glouc); 19 Derbyshire (Padova); 20 Picone (Treviso); 21 Bocchino (Rovigo); 22 Masi (Racing Metro)

Referee R Poite (France)

Kick-off 2.30pm TV BBC1

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