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After a Six Nations opening weekend almost dominated by kickers, all eyes will be on Ronan O'Gara at 2.30pm today, as he and Ireland attempt to vault over their Italian counterparts in Rome.

Even if 27-year-old O'Gara has scored all of Ireland's points in his two previous caps, and he forefronts a backline which has accounted for 856 points and 86 tries over the past number of seasons, coach Eddie O'Sullivan believes a sixth win in six tournament meetings with the Azzurri may lie in the forward battle.

John Kirwan's side famously took on the Irish scrum from the start in last year's 19-3 home win at Lansdowne Road, kicking the ball less than the requisite ten metres to set up a first-minute set piece battle.

"We have some great players in the backs but if we don't have a platform to play off then they will be ineffective," said O'Sullivan yesterday.

"What happens up-front will be crucial because this is the strongest Italian pack we have seen - they are strong in the set-piece and strong at carrying the ball.

"We will only create the platform we need if we are mentally prepared for a very physical battle-up in the forwards."

One of those forwards sure to be in the thick of things is Leinster lock Malcolm O'Kelly who equals Mike Gibson's long-standing caps record of 69 caps.

Bruff and Munster tighthead prop John Hayes also makes his 50th test appearance this afternoon.

Head to Head:

Played 11: Italy won, 3; Ireland won, 8

Biggest wins:

Italy: (points) 37-29, 1997; 37-22, 1997; (margin) 37-22, 1997 Ireland: (points & margin) 61-6, 2003

2004-05 Form:

Italy: Canada W 51-6, NZ L 10-59, USA W 43-25

Ireland: South Africa W 17-12, USA W 55-6, Argentina W 21-19

RBS SIX NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP:Italy v Ireland, Stadio Flaminio, Rome, 2.30pm

ITALY:

(15) Roland De Marigny(14) Mirco Bergamasco(13) Gonzalo Canale(12) Andrea Masi(11) Ludovico Nitoglia(10) Luciano Orquera(9) Alessandro Troncon(1) Andrea Lo Cicero(2) Fabio Ongaro(3) Martin Castrogiovanni(4) Santiago Dellaph(5) Marco Bortolami (Capt)(6) Aaron Persico(7) Mauro Bergamasco

(8) Sergio Parisse

Replacements:

(16) Salvatore Perugini(17) Giorgio Intoppa(18) Carlo Antonio Del Fava(19) David Dal Maso(20) Paul Griffen(21) Walter Pozzebon(22) Paul Kaine Robertson

IRELAND:

(15) Geordan Murphy(14) Shane Horgan(13) Brian O'Driscoll (Capt)(12) Gordon D'Arcy(11) Denis Hickie(10) Ronan O''Gara(9) Peter Stringer(1) Reggie Corrigan(2) Shane Byrne(3) John Hayes(4) Malcolm O'Kelly(5) Paul O'Connell(6) Simon Easterby(7) Denis Leamy(8) Anthony Foley

Replacements:

(16) Frankie Sheahan(17) Marcus Horan(18) Donncha O'Callaghan(19) Eric Miller(20) Guy Easterby(21) David Humphreys(22) Girvan Dempsey

Referee: Paddy O'Brien (New Zealand)

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21 June 2018
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