Win and they are in. It’s that simple for Declan Kidney and his Ireland team as they face Italy in a winner takes all shootout for top honours in Pool C in the Otago Stadium on Sunday morning, kick off 8.30am Irish time.
Following on from their historic win against Australia and a clinical display against Russia Ireland know that a win against Italy will see them through to a quarter final showdown with, most likely, Wales.
Much has been made of Ronan O’Gara’s inclusion at 10 at the expense of Jonny Sexton. O’Gara has come roaring back into form over recent weeks and looks as good as he ever has in an Ireland shirt. The pairing of Connor Murray with O’Gara at halfback was expected given that the duo have played before together at Munster.
For Ireland to win the game their tactic is simple. Keep the ball moving. Everyone to a man know Italy will want an arm wrestle up front. With the likes of Ghiraldini, and Castrogiovanni in their ranks Italy have a scrum that can do real damage. Nullify their scrum and Ireland will have the edge.
Ireland come into this game confident and for the first time in a while happy in their own skin. The three victories so far seem to have freed this side and they look like a happier and deadly focused group of players.
While Andrew Trimble can count himself unlucky to miss out the Irish backline will be eager to click as well as they did against Russia. Keith Earls will have gained confidence from his display last week and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he had a big game on Sunday.
One man who will want to produce a big game on Saturday will be Jamie Heaslip. The Leinster number 8 has been somewhat overshadowed by the performances of Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris and he will be keen to make his own mark on the game.
While their head to head record against Ireland is dreadful, Italy have improved dramatically and will fancy that they can beat Ireland. Along with their powerful front row they have Sergio Parisse, one of the best number 8’s in the world at the moment.
One concern for Italy is the short turn around they have had this week. It will only be five days since Italy played America. That short turnaround is a disadvantage and if Ireland can drag Italy over the pitch then Italy could be exposed by the Irish backline.
While Italy are talking a good game the vote goes to Ireland. This team will not let this chance of making the quarter finals or further slip through their fingers.
It won’t be pretty Ireland have enough to get pass Italy and keep their dream of World Cup success alive. It should be a tense 80 minutes. Roll on Sunday. Ireland by 10.
Ireland Team & Replacements (v Italy, 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool C, Otago Stadium, Sunday, October 2nd, kick-off 8:30pm local time/8:30am Irish time): R Kearney (UCD/Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), G D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), K Earls (Young Munster/Munster); R O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), C Murray (Garryowen/Munster); C Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), R Best (Banbridge/Ulster), M Ross (Clontarf/Leinster); D O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), P O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster); S Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), S O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), J Heaslip (Naas/Leinster)
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), T Court (Malone/Ulster), D Ryan (Shannon/Munster), D Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster), E Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), J Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), A Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
Italy (v Ireland) : 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, M Bergamasco, S Parisse (capt).
Replacements : F Ongaro, A lo Cicero, M Bortolami, P Derbyshire, E Gori, R Bocchino, L McLean