The problem for Ireland coach Declan Kidney and his men ahead of tomorrow's game at the Stadio Flaminio is to maintain the familiarity of a fixture that has brought consistent success for the Irish since Italy joined this Six Nations shindig in 2000.
The fact that Ireland go into the match propelled by a wave of national fervour following their excellent, unity-affirming 30-21 victory over France last weekend heightens the psychological challenge. That test was already elevated by the prospect of facing an Italian side desperate for a self-justifying home display after their abject defeat to a pedestrian England at Twickenham. Nick Mallet's bizarre decision to throw Mauro Bergamasco in at scrum-half against the English has dominated their coverage for a fortnight but the Italy coach has restored the flanker to his customary berth and his team looks far better equipped than the raggle-taggle side he assembled in London.
For Italy it will be back to the old in-your-face stuff that has discomfited Irish teams in the past and it is up front that the visitors must set the tone. The effectiveness of the Ireland scrum has been questioned in the build-up – notably loose-head Marcus Horan – and the Italian front row is the most experienced and solid unit in their team. However, Horan, hooker Jerry Flannery and John Hayes have seen it all before and Ireland have a pronounced edge in the back five in spite of the back-row excellence of Sergio Parisse.
"They always take a lot of beating and something that they really developed is that they're never beaten – they'll always come back at you," said Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll. "They'll fight and fight and fight. It's not over until it's over."
Italy: A Masi; K Robertson, G Canale, Mi Bergamasco, M Pratichetti; L McLean, P Griffen; S Perugini, F Ongaro, M Castrogiovanni, S Dellape, T Reato, A Zanni, Ma Bergamasco, S Parisse (capt). Replacements: C Festuccia, C Nieto, C del Fava, J Sole, G Toniolatti, G Garcia, A Bacchetti.
Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace, L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, Heaslip. Replacements: R Best, T Court, M O'Kelly, D Leamy, P Stringer, G D'Arcy, G Murphy.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content