Ireland given the chance to repair World Cup damage

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The Independent Online

Ireland have a chance to repair their reputations when they entertain Italy in their Six Nations opener on Saturday. The coach Eddie O'Sullivan has named 11 of the players who were beaten 30-15 by Argentina and failed to get past the first round of the World Cup in France in September. The veteran scrum-half Peter Stringer is on the bench, which means a start for Eoin Reddan in a familiar Irish line-up to face the Italians at Croke Park.

The Ulster utility back Andrew Trimble and Leinster lock Malcolm O'Kelly replace the injured pair Shane Horgan and Paul O'Connell while Leinster's Girvan Dempsey and Ulster's Rory Best return at full-back and hooker. Captain Brian O'Driscoll and prop John Hayes will win their 80th caps.

The only other change from the side who lost to Argentina in France is positional, with Leicester's Geordon Murphy moving to the left wing to take over from the retired Denis Hickie.

Virtually the same Irish team went close to winning last season's Six Nations, finishing level on points with France but losing out on points differential.

"There were a couple of difficult calls to make," O'Sullivan said. "The front row was hard because Rory has played very well since recovering from injury, but Jackman pushed him close.

"We looked at Jamie Heaslip because of his form but on balance we decided to leave the back row as it is. Scrum-half was a tight call as well. It could have gone either way between Reddan and Stringer."

Ireland (v Italy, Croke Park, Saturday, KO 2pm): G Dempsey (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), S Easterby (Llanelli), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: B Jackman (Leinster), T Buckley (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), R Kearney (Leinster).