Ireland host Italy in Dublin for Six Nations clash

Ciaran O'Raghallaigh
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Wales defeated the Irish 23-21 in Dublin on the Six Nations opening weekend

Ireland's Tommy Bowe (C) celebrtes his try against Wales with teammate Robert Kearny, during their Six Nations rugby union match at the Aviva stadium in Dublin, on February 5. Ireland play Italy next, on Saturday, in Dublin

Ireland's postponed Six Nations match in Paris gave players the chance to rest aching bodies, and with the ultra-physical Italians in Dublin on Saturday, skipper Paul O'Connell is happy to take the lone positive from the French farce.

One thing any team can rely on when they face Italy is a test of their muscle, and with the rescheduled tournament giving Ireland an unexpected four games in four weekends, Jacques Brunel's men will provide a tough start to that run of fixtures at Lansdowne Road.

"We've just got on with it, there's nothing we can do about it although I suppose some guys with knocks have had the benefit," said O'Connell.

"Others would have liked to play games, because when you lose a game (against Wales 21-23 in Dublin on the opening weekend) you want to get straight out and play it out of the system."

Italy come to Dublin knowing they've lost every Six Nations test match against Ireland since first entering the tournament, leaving just the Irish and England as the two scalps they've yet to claim in the competition.

Their last meeting with Ireland was desperately disappointing for Italy, a 36-6 defeat in Dunedin in October -- in what was the final game as Azzurri coach for Nick Mallett, now a candidate for the England job -- ending their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup and securing a quarter-final spot for the Irish.

England though narrowly escaped being beaten at a snowy Stadio Olimpico in Rome two weeks ago, and O'Connell was under no illusions about the task ahead.

"It's going to be a really tough game," said O'Connell, captaining Ireland in the ongoing absence of star centre Brian O'Driscoll, out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.

"Whenever we've played them in the past, they've excellent maul and scrum and they're good around the fringes," added the lock, who will be leading an Ireland team unchanged from the one that would have played France.

Brunel, by contrast, has made four changes to the side that squandered a nine-point lead in a 19-15 loss to England.

South African-born Tobias Botes will make his first start despite, after replacing Australian-born Kris Burton, missing two penalties against England that could have given Italy a first win over the Six Nations champions.

But Burton's tactical kicking from fly-half was widely criticised.

Meanwhile Alberto Sgarbi, left out against England, returns at outside centre in place of Gonzalo Canale while there are two changes to the front row, with props Michele Rizzo and Lorenzo Cittadini called up after injury to Martin Castrogiovanni and the dropping of Andrea Lo Cicero.

Brunel said Italy would have to be extremely competitive at the breakdown in order to prevent past-masters Ireland from slowing their ball.

"If ever we can resolve that so that we don't submit to this pressure and instead turn it around then maybe we can get a result," said the Frenchman.

"We cannot get away from the breakdown, we have to be very precise in this zone at the least."

He added: "We're giving points away too easily. If we can eliminate that and be more effective in getting points with the boot then we will have the ability to get results."

One factor which could work in Italy's favour is Ireland's poor record at the rebuilt Lansdowne Road.

Since the redeveloped arena opened in 2010, Ireland have lost six of the nine internationals played there.

"We're well aware of the record and it is annoying and frustrating," said O'Connell.

"We've rarely put in an 80 minute performance there and that's the real problem. We're an excellent side but we haven’t been that excellent side for the whole 80 minutes and that will be the goal for this weekend."