Pictured above: Munster prop Marcus Horan readies himself for today's Irish squad session on the back pitch at Lansdowne Road. Training was due to take place at the St. Gerard's School in Bray, County Wicklow, but a frozen pitch forced a change of venue.
If Horan, 28, is picked to start Saturday's clash with Italy at Lansdowne Road, it will be the Limerick man's first start in the RBS 6 Nations tournament since the 42-6 Grand Slam decider defeat by England in Dublin in March 2003. Horan was used a replacement in all five of last season's 6 Nations games, but has been ever-present since then, starting each of Ireland's most recent games against Japan (2), New Zealand, Australia and Romania.
Obviously buoyed by his team's 3-0 FA Cup defeat of Wolves yesterday, Manchester United fan Brian O'Driscoll practices his 'round ball' skills on the back pitch. O'Driscoll could have made his Test debut against Italy back in April 1999, but his services were not required off the bench in a 39-30 win for a Warren Gatland-coached Ireland side at Lansdowne Road.
Brian O'Driscoll has played six times against Italy in his 59-cap Test career to date, four times as captain (2003 (2), 2004 and 2005), and scored three tries.
From left to right: Donncha O'Callaghan, Simon Easterby, Malcolm O'Kelly and Girvan Dempsey warm up with some passing drills.
Munster scrum half Peter Stringer gets in some kicking practice during training. Stringer has had some memorable duels with Italians of varying sizes over the years. 2001 saw him targeted in Rome as his opposite number Alessandro Troncon was sent off for a punch at the side of a ruck.
2002 in Dublin saw Stringer come in for some similar treatment from fly half Diego Domiguez and prop Salvatore Perugini was yellow carded for an attempted head butt on the Corkman in the first half.
Stringer, as always, has let his rugby do the talking and two of his five international tries have come against the Azzurri. The 28-year-old scored in the sides' 2003 meeting and also touched down in last February's 28-17 Irish win in Rome.
Gordon D'Arcy, whose last RBS 6 Nations game was the 28-17 win for Ireland in Rome nearly twelve months ago. D'Arcy lasted barely half an hour at the Stadio Flaminio due to a hamstring injury, and he was sidelined for the remaining games of the 2005 Championship.
**All photos by Dan Sheridan of Inpho Photography**