It’s that time of the year again. Spring is in the air and the temperature is rising into plus figures. It can only mean one thing. The Six Nations Championship is upon us.
To whet our appetite’s for the weeks ahead, Ireland start off their 2011 campaign against Italy on Saturday with a trip to the Stadio Flaminio.
Ireland have won every 6 Nations encounter against the Italians and yet will face a fierce test in Rome.
The school of thought behind this is that Italy are at their strongest in the first match of the championship and in the past have claimed the scalps of Wales and Scotland on the opening day. Also, Italy’s inspirational talisman Sergio Parisse is back from injury and will lead a very formidable pack on home soil in front of wildly passionate supporters.
Another plus point for Italy is that they are facing an Ireland team shorn of many of their first choice pick such as Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney. Italy are ably coached by ex Springbok supremo Nick Mallett and have world class players such as Castrogiovani, Zanni and Ghiraldini to call upon.
However, the reality is that even with a string of injuries and some questionable selection choices, Ireland should win with up to ten points to spare. One hopes that Johnathan Sexton performs to his Leinster standard and that if he is not, that a change will be made early to ensure Ireland win the game.
Fergus McFadden earns his maiden cap on the wing and links up with Earls and Fitzgerald in an exciting back three. The irrepressible Darcy and O’ Driscoll form an ever potent centre partnership whilst O’ Leary gets a chance to redeem his recent poor form by starting at scrum half.
The Irish pack is a cause for concern and faces a huge ask in Rome against the fierce some Italians. The two locks need to assert dominance and need to help out the front row who are being singled out for criticism when in fact the whole pack has to front up and take responsibility.
An intriguing game awaits us and I for one am expecting Ireland to emerge with ten points to spare.