Frustrated O'Connell raring to go


Paul O'Connell, the Ireland captain, is champing at the bit to get back into the action against Italy in Dublin today, and says his side's enforced three-week lay-off nearly drove him crazy.

Ireland's match against France at Stade de France a fortnight ago was postponed just before kick-off because of a frozen pitch, meaning their last game was the home defeat to Wales on 5 February.

"When you lose a game you like to get straight back out there and get it out of your system," the experienced lock said. "It's been frustrating to carry that around. Some guys with knocks have benefited from it, but a few others would have liked more game time under their belts. We've come into camp fresh this week and that's been the positive that's come of it."

Four matches in as many weeks, including trips to France and England, the defending champions, is not the most ideal way to finish the Six Nations for Declan Kidney's team.

"There's no doubt successive Test matches will be very physically demanding, but we're used to it," Stephen Ferris, the Ireland flanker, said. "We did it at the World Cup and we play week in week out for the provinces. Speaking with all the players after the France game was postponed, it was never an issue for anyone."

Without a victory over Ireland since 1997 and missing world-class tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni because of broken ribs for the rest of the competition, history appears to be against Italy climbing off the bottom of the standings this weekend.

Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, Earls, D'Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O'Callaghan, O'Connell (capt), Ferris, O'Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin, Court, Ryan, O'Mahony, Reddan, O'Gara, McFadden.

Italy: Masi; Venditti, Benvenuti, Sgarbi, McLean; Botes, Gori; Rizzo, Ghiraldini, Cittadini, Geldenhuys, Bortolami, Zanni, Barbieri, Parisse (capt). Replacements: D'Apice, Staibano, Pavanello, Favaro, Semenzato, Burton, Canale.

Referee: C Joubert (SA). Kick-off: 1.30pm today. TV: BBC1