O’Halloran’s Rugby: Hard To See Ireland Beaten…But You Never Know!

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rsz_mike_ohalloranOur rugby writer, Mike O’Halloran, looks forward to Ireland’s Italian job tomorrow and says the home side will be no pushovers…

IRELAND head to the Eternal City for their opening game in this years RBS Six Nations.

The fan-friendly (if not transport-friendly) Stadio Olimpico will play host to this battle between the favourites and the minnows of the competition.

Two years ago Ireland were humiliated by Italy when an Irish team, decimated by injuries were forced to finish the game with Peter O’Mahony playing on the wing while Brian O’Driscoll attempted to give him a crash course in defending 60 meters versus four or five.

Last year Ireland righted that loss and beat Italy in Dublin by 39 points.
The Munster Rugby scrum half Conor Murray starts at nine partnered by his Munster team-mate Ian Keatley.

Ian Madigan would have been my choice but I suppose the head coach always had Keatley in mind for the starting position given that he selected Madigan for the game in Cork last weekend on the Wolfhounds side against The Saxons.

Things didn’t go well for the talented Leinster man that night which was hardly his fault.

This will be a fair test of Keatley who has had a rough few weeks with Munster where he failed to shine at ten, but at least he will have the best scrum half in the Six Nations to guide him through a game that is regarded as a run out for bigger things to come.

France arrive in Dublin next weekend and one can only presume that Joe Schmidt has one eye on that game – perhaps he should have both eyes on the challenge presented by Sergio Pariesse and his gladiators.

The one eyed predictions of a cake walk for Ireland cite the lack of success of the Italian clubs in European club competitions, which to my mind is folly as most of Italy’s top players play for other European clubs.

Apart from the great man Sergio Pariesse – perhaps one of the greatest European number eights ever – keep an eye out for Kelly Haloma and Michele Campagano the exciting young centre.

As to how the game might pan out, Italy will bring their usual passion and physicality to the table and will attempt to beat up the opposition with their forwards leading the charge.

Italy will certainly attempt to target what they will perceive the weakness at 10 for Ireland.

Expect Ireland to soak up the pressure and use their superior back line to make the break through when good quality ball is presented to them.

Ireland will need to be disciplined at scrum, maul and at the breakdown and not fall foul of the varying interpretations of referees, there seems to be little consistency especially at scrum time.

Part of Ireland’s success last year was their discipline conceding only 35 penalties. Scotland had nearly twice as many with Italy leading the penalties table with 81.

Paul O’Connell, Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony make up other Munster Rugby men to be handed a starting jersey.

Hard to see Ireland being beaten, but without Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton you never know. Italy are improving and are making strides off the field to make rugby their second national game after soccer.

On the field the improvement has been gradual and progressive. Good performances last season – with Pariesse carrying an injury for most of it – will give them hope and remember they are always capable of taking one scalp and what bigger scalp than the defending champs.

Let’s hope they Irish boys head back to Dublin without too many sore bodies and a win because every ounce of energy and good health will be needed for the Gallic challenge next week.

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