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BALL RETENTION A KEY AREA FOR KIDNEY: The ability of Italy to build through the phases and keep their hands on the ball could prove frustrating for Ireland when the sides meet on Sunday.

Declan Kidney wants his players to keep a tight grip on any possession they get at Stadio Flaminio and putting away their scoring chances as clinically as they did against France would certainly help.

And while the satisfaction factor was high after the win over France, Kidney feels there is room for improvement.

"There are always improvements to be made. It's nit-picking but if you're not always trying to improve, you won't progress," he said.

"So there are things that we'll be trying to do better, but I'm not sure whether Italy will allows us to.

"Obviously, we spent a long time in our half at the weekend. Some of that was down to the way we approached the game but it was also down to the way that France played and the way they were able to counter-attack so effectively.

"So we'll be hoping to try not spend so much time inside our own half but that's easier said than done.

"Ball in hand is definitely an area we'll be looking at. There were a couple of phases against France where we put ourselves under a fair bit of pressure."

Talking up this weekend's opponents, Kidney said that Italy are largely an experienced side and they know what it takes to pull off big wins as Wales and Scotland have found out in previous years.

"A stat came up on the television (during the England-Italy) regarding the number of caps that the Italians have.

"The front row average somewhere in the region of 60 caps-a-man, there are 40 in the second row, 40 in the back row and 30-odd in the backs.

"That showed throughout the game if teams are young and inexperienced in the first 20 minutes, it might go like that and they just don't know what to do.

"This was a team of experienced men who knew how to garner their resources, how to become far more resilient and they got scores in the second half. They got stronger and stronger.

"They tightened up and when Italy tighten up, you just look at the possession stakes."

He warned: "You wouldn't be surprised if we only had 40 percent possession on Sunday because when Italy get the ball, they hold onto it for a long time.

"And when they get territory you mightn't see the ball for ten minutes, which is a hell of a long time. If your discipline isn't right, they'll pick up points and it becomes a very difficult day for you."

STAT'S LIFE - GOODE AND ELLIS TOP SCORING LISTS: After the first round of matches in the 2009 RBS 6 Nations, England's Harry Ellis and Andy Goode lead the way as the tournament's top try and points scorers respectively.

2009 RBS 6 NATIONS - TOP TRY SCORERS:

2 - Harry Ellis (England)

1 - Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Andy Goode (England), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Gordon D'Arcy (Ireland), Imanol Harinordoquy (France), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Mark Cueto (England), Max Evans (Scotland), Maxime Medard (France), Mirco Bergamasco (Italy), Riki Flutey (England), Shane Williams (Wales), Tom Shanklin (Wales)

2009 RBS 6 NATIONS - TOP POINTS SCORERS:

16 - Andy Goode (England)

15 - Ronan O'Gara (Ireland)

11 - Lionel Beauxis (France)

10 - Harry Ellis (England)

8 - Chris Paterson (Scotland)

6 - Luke McLean (Italy), Stephen Jones (Wales)

5 - Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Gordon D'Arcy (Ireland), Imanol Harinordoquy (France), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Mark Cueto (England), Max Evans (Scotland), Maxime Medard (France), Mirco Bergamasco (Italy), Riki Flutey (England), Shane Williams (Wales), Tom Shanklin (Wales)

HEASLIP: PREPARATIONS ARE GOING WELL: Number 8 Jamie Heaslip feels that Ireland are in the best possible shape, both physically and mentally, to go over to Rome and beat Italy and keep their Championship bid on track.

Fresh from picking up the man-of-the-match award for his all-action, try-scoring display against France, Heaslip knows that Italy will be determined to bounce back from last weekend's defeat to England and not give an inch in front of their vocal home support.

"Italy defend differently to France. They are hard in defence and they come up a little quicker with a four-man rush defence and we'll have to deal with that," said the Leinster man.

"We're not going to get as much space as we did against France so we have to adapt to that and play for it.

"In training when we went about the way we want to play against them it looked good.

"The guys that prepped France for us did a great job last week and they have done the same with Italy so that should help us.

"The Italian boys only had six days to get ready when England had two weeks, and the Italians are going to be a different kettle of fish. They were punished for mistakes they don't normally make against England."

Heaslip is set for an intriguing individual showdown with Italy number 8 and captain Sergio Parisse, whom he rates highly.

"I don't think I've played against Parisse before, I was only on for 15 minutes against Italy last year and I can't remember if he was on.

"He got nominated for the World Player of the Year award so that says enough."

SAY WHAT?:

"It has been different this week. It's been helped by the coaches, you put new emphasis on the gameplan, so training changes and as a result, your mindset changes.

"Maybe last week it was about attacking the fringes whereas that might be a silly idea against such a physical pack as Italy.

"As great as it is to liberate players and tell them to go play ball, there has to be parameters and you have to have guidelines - you have to know what the man beside you is thinking and the coaches have to give you a bit of shape.

"There's an awful lot of respect for Italy because of the quality of their side. You look at Bortolami, the Bergamascos, Parisse at number 8, they're incredible players.

"When you play Italy, you tackle like a lunatic, they put you through phase after phase, it's really a tough grind. They're very proud."

- Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan gives his thoughts on the preparations and change in gameplan for Sunday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy, a team the Irish players have the highest respect for

"(Paul) Griffen represents the best choice considering our current situation. Mauro Bergamasco returns to the back row and I believe that we can expect a great game from him.

"With Marco Bortolami unavailable, I believe that Tommaso Reato can offer more security than Carlo Del Fava, who has played little of late due to injury."

- Italy coach Nick Mallett talks about moving Mauro Bergamasco back to openside flanker after experimenting with him at scrum half against England, and also recalling Paul Griffen and Tommaso Reato to the side

"Shane is a class act. For someone who isn't a very big size, he can leave you planted on your two feet and could be gone like that.

"It's been great for me to go over there, train with him, chat to him about different wing play, give him my opinion on things, while he is also generous with his opinions with me.

"Then you have someone who is a total different size like Nikki Walker. At 6ft 4in, he's lightning-quick. He doesn't look as fast as Shane but would be just as fast.

"It's great to have both ends. To be able to train with him you just see how classy he really is."

- Ireland winger Tommy Bowe explains some of the benefits of his move this season to Welsh side the Ospreys, in that he gets to train, test him against and play alongside top quality, international wingers like current IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams and Scotland powerhouse Nikki Walker

NUMBERS GAME:

56 - Former Ireland centre Mike Gibson still holds the overall record for the number of Championship appearances made by an individual player. Incredibly, he played in 56 Five Nations games between 1964 and 1979.

John Hayes (45 matches), Ronan O'Gara (42), Peter Stringer (41), Brian O'Driscoll (41) and Malcolm O'Kelly (40) are the most-capped Championship players in the current Irish squad

3 - Of the Ireland team selected to face Italy, only three of the starting players have yet to score a Test try. The trio hoping to break their scoring duck are Luke Fitzgerald, Tomas O'Leary and Stephen Ferris

2 - Italy have won only two of their last ten Test matches. Those victories came against Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations (23-20) and Argentina on their 2008 summer tour (13-12). Ireland have won five of their last 10 games, including their last two against Argentina (17-3) and France (30-21)

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20 June 2018
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