It has been 10 years since Ireland first visited the Stadio Flaminio for a Six Nations assignment against Italy and although the challenge presented by the hosts has consistently stiffened throughout the years, Paddy Power, official bookmaker of the IRFU have decided the visitors are still strong favourites to win.
The raw stats of 11 Irish wins from 11 Six Nations meetings don't fully do justice to the quality of performances from the Azzurri over the course of the rivalry. Most of the encounters have been hard-fought and stamina-sapping with Ireland's greater quality in depth proving vital in tipping the balance in their favour.
Ireland have been chalked up as a 1/10 shot to start their 2011 campaign with a win with the ever-improving hosts available at 11/2 and not entirely implausible draw at 30/1.
In truth, backers of Ireland aren't likely to get rich at those prices, but there is more value on offer in the Handicap Betting. Ireland are 10/11 to emerge triumphant minus 13 points. That is quite an advantage to give away to the Italians, but in 8 of Ireland's 11 wins over the Italians, they've surpassed that mark. On average they've beaten Italy by 20 points in their 6 Nations encounters and somewhat going against conventional wisdom, when taking into account only 6 Nations games in Italy, the average margin of victory increases to 22 points.
That makes the Alternative Handicaps worth further examination. Ireland are 6/4 to win -19 points and 2/1 to win -22 points - something they've done on three of their five previous 6 Nations visits to Rome. Equally, the Winning Margin betting has a few tempting options. Ireland to win by 16-20 points is rated a 11/2 chance whilst a win for the visitors by 21-25 points is 15/2. For those of us who prefer wider goalposts, the Alternative Winning Margin presents some interesting choices. An Irish victory by 11-20 points is priced up at 9/4, whilst a more resounding win of Ireland by 21-30 points is 10/3.
Sean O'Brien has been a revelation this season at Leinster and in the absence of Jamie Heaslip, he's expected to have a huge influence on the game. His pace and strength have been too hot for many teams to handle and he's a decent bet in the Tryscorer markets. O'Brien is a 9/1 chance to score the 1st try of the match and 9/4 to score a try at any time in the match.