10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
IRELAND v ITALY, Ravenhill, 7.45pm (live RTE Two/BBC 2)
Ireland, led by lock Paul O'Connell in the absence of the injured Brian O'Driscoll, will field their strongest possible side as they bid to depart for France with a bang and end a run of three Test defeats on the trot, albeit with their second string suffering those losses.
Despite the morale-saping injuries to O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan and David Wallace, the mood in the Ireland camp is very good and has been helped by a week of sunshine in Belfast.
"We have had a great week up here," admitted O'Connell. "The weather has been great, the hotel has been great and the training facilities at Campbell College have been excellent too.
"Monday and Tuesday were two of the best training sessions we have had in a while. The mindset is very good. It is a home fixture and the guys are really looking forward to it and getting a win under our belts before heading off to the World Cup."
The team selected by coach Eddie O'Sullivan shows two changes to the side that beat Bayonne in last week's non-representative match.
With O'Driscoll ruled out, Ulster's own Andrew Trimble moves to outside centre to partner Gordon D'Arcy and Geordan Murphy, who impressed as a replacement in the south of France, comes onto the right wing.
Good news came earlier today with the confirmation that Peter Stringer will start after recovering from a back spasm. In a notable achievement, the Munster scrum half and his school-mate Ronan O'Gara will be making their 50th Test start together as Ireland's half-backs.
All eyes will also be on soon-to-be-retired winger Denis Hickie who is set for his last professional match on Irish soil tonight. The smart money will be on the Dubliner, who has scored eight tries in his seven games against the Italians, marking the occasion with a try or two and edging clear of O'Driscoll as Ireland's record try scorer.
This is the last chance for both sides to finalise their preparations for the World Cup and with that in mind, both O'Sullivan and his counterpart Pierre Berbizier have selected strong line-ups.
Play-making out-half Ramiro Pez and flanker Mauro Bergamasco and lock Santiago Dellape are ruled out due to niggling injuries.
So the Azzurri had have to rejig things slightly with noted full-back Roland De Marigny slotting in at number 10 and Valerio Bernabo, Alessandro Zanni and Robert Barbieri - with 30 caps between them - being promoted to the pack.
Berbizier's men got their summer back on track last weekend with an expected 36-12 home victory over Japan, after a 24-6 loss away in Argentina in June.
In front of a 14,100-strong crowd, they are unlikely to stop Ireland from posting their 11th straight win against them but are certainly expected to pose problems particularly at set piece time, with prop Martin Castrogiovanni, Leicester's Guinness Premiership of the Year last term, looking to put Marcus Horan under pressure in the scrum.
A lack of firepower out wide will count against the visitors, as it often does, and the night seems tailor-made for the likes of Trimble, Hickie and Murphy to let their footballing skills do the talking. A better lineout performance than the one delivered at Murrayfield and a strong showing at the breakdown will also be on the menu for the Irish forwards.
The number of tries or margin of victory will not concern Eddie O'Sullivan though - a repeat of the 61-6 World Cup warm-up win over Italy four years ago is not in the offing. He will settle for a solid enough win and an injury-free evening as he prepares his troops for the true battles ahead.
2007 - Ireland won 51-24, Stadio Flaminio
2006 - Ireland won 26-16, Lansdowne Road
2005 - Ireland won 28-17, Stadio Flaminio
2004 - Ireland won 19-3, Lansdowne Road
2003 - Ireland won 61-6, Thomond Park
2003 - Ireland won 37-13, Stadio Flaminio
2002 - Ireland won 32-17, Lansdowne Road
2001 - Ireland won 41-22, Stadio Flaminio
2000 - Ireland won 60-13, Lansdowne Road
1999 - Ireland won 39-30, Lansdowne Road
1997 - Italy won 37-22, Bologna
1997 - Italy won 37-29, Lansdowne Road
Ireland: Girvan Dempsey; Geordan Murphy, Andrew Trimble, Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Rory Best, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Simon Easterby, Neil Best, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Simon Best, Malcolm O'Kelly, Alan Quinlan, Isaac Boss, Paddy Wallace, Brian Carney.
Italy: David Bortolussi; Kaine Robertson, Gonzalo Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, Matteo Pratichetti; Roland De Marigny, Alessandro Troncon; Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Martin Castrogiovanni, Valerio Bernabo, Marco Bortolami (capt), Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matias Aguero, Josh Sole, Manoa Vosawai, Paul Griffen, Pablo Canavosio, Ezio Galon.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch Judges: Dave Pearson (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)