Ireland must overcome Italy to avoid shock exit

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The Independent Online

Ireland must be wary of suffering a dose of their own medicine in Dunedin, where Italy will look to surpass their shock of the World Cup.

Despite having produced the result of the tournament thus far, in beating Tri Nations champions Australia,Declan Kidney's men are not in the quarter-finals yet.

Defeat to Italy will see Ireland fail to progress past the pool stages for a second successive World Cup and facing yet more allegations of being the competition's greatest under-achievers. However win, and a favourable path to the final lies before them.

Ireland's players have been herebefore, to great success with their provinces given Munster and Leinster have won four of the last six Heineken Cup finals, and that experience of cup rugby could prove critical against a confident Azzurri.

Jamie Heaslip, who has played every minute of the campaign so far, said: "This competition is very much like playing the Heineken Cup. You have to fight your way out of the pool and then see where you are for the knock-out stages. The only difference is that the games are every week. However we're fortunate to have a lot of guys here from Leinster and Munster who have enjoyed a lot of success in that competition. They know how to play tournaments like this.

"We've made sure we didn't get carried away with the Australia result. It was a great performance but we always knew Italy would be a key game. They keep improving every year, their set-piece will be a handful and it's going to be a tough challenge."

Ireland's failure to secure a bonus point in the opening game against USA could come back to haunt them. Italy managed to claim one for themselves against the vastly improved Eagles in their last game four days ago, courtesy of a penalty try earned by their scrummaging.

Coach Nick Mallett makes no excuses for his team's pugilist approach and has already goaded the Irish scrum by declaring he has the stronger front row. Cornerstone to that supposed advantage is Leicester's hirsute prop Martin Castrogiovanni. He said: "We love the physical type of games and that's exactly what it will be against Ireland. It's a massive game for both countries and, although we are the underdogs, we will definitely use our front row and put everything into the result.

"We will all need to play almost the perfect game to win. If we don't, then we must at least give everything."

Ireland are clearly preparing to fight fire with fire with the selection of Ronan O'Gara at fly-half amid eight changes. Six Nations player of the tournament Andrea Masi is fit to return for Italy in their only change.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, J Heaslip, S O'Brien. Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, D Ryan, D Leamy, E Reddan, J Sexton, A Trimble

Italy: A Masi; T Benvenuti, G Canale, G Garcia, M Bergamasco; L Orquera, F Semenzato; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, Q Geldenhuys, C Van Zyl, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), M Bergamasco. Replacements: F Ongaro, A lo Cicero, M Bortolami, P Derbyshire, E Gori, R Bocchino, L McLean.