20/03/02.Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan has made four changes from the side that beat Scotland, for Saturday’s Lloyds TSB Six Nations encounter with Italy at Lansdowne Road.
One of those changes was forced, the injury to Kevin Maggs, and results in a senior international debut for John Kelly. It had been anticipated that Keith Wood would return to the side but he has developed a slight back back problem which means a first championship start for 30 year old Shane Byrne (pictured) with Frank Sheahan on the bench. The other changes are at lock where Gary Longwell comes in for Mick Galwey, and at wing-forward, Simon Easterby preferred to Eric Miller.
O’Sullivan admitted that in each case the calls were close, Kelly edging out Tyrone Howe, Byrne vying with Sheahan in the absence of Wood while Longwell’s experience gave him the advantage over O’Connell.
Nor was the Ireland coach underestimating the challenge immediately ahead. “The Italians caused huge problems for France and I thought they were in with a chance of victory until a controversial sin-binning. They then gave Scotland a terrible time until the very end when the Scots pulled clear with a few scores. They didn’t do too bad against Wales, even though they were short a few key players. They’re an aggressive, physical side, good in the set piece and they hold onto the ball well. If we give them the opportunity to mess us around, they will, so we are under no illusions.”
Having said that, O’Sullivan added that he felt his side had made significant progress since the Scotland game and expressed the hope that we would see a much more cohesive performance against the Italians.
Ireland.Girvan Dempsey (Leinster/Terenure College); John Kelly (Munster/Cork Constitution), Brian O’Driscoll Leinster/Blackrock College), Shane Horgan (Leinster/Lansdowne), Denis Hickie (Leinster/St. Mary’s College); David Humphreys capt (Ulster/Dungannon)
Peter Stringer (Munster/Shannon); Peter Clohessy (Munster/Young Munster), Shane Byrne (Leinster/Blackrock College), John Hayes (Munster/Shannon); Gary Longwell (Ulster/Ballymena), Malcolm O’Kelly (Leinster/St. Mary’s College); Simon Easterby (Llanelli), David Wallace (Munster/Garryowen), Anthony Foley (Munster/Shannon).
Replacements: Frank Sheahan (Munster/Cork Constitution), Paul Wallace (Leinster/Blackrock College), Paul O’Connell (Munster/Young Munster), Eric Miller (Leinster/Terenure College), Guy Easterby (Llanelli), Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Cork Constitution), Tyrone Howe (Ulster/Dungannon).
Meanwhile, injuries have forced Italian coach Brad Johnstone to trim his squad to 22 players for the game. Forwards Andrea Muraro (Padova) and Salvatore Garozzo (Treviso) have pulled out while centre Walter Pozzebon, who had been added as a precaution, will not now play because of an injured arm that has seen him miss all the Six Nations matches so far.
Italy had already lost the services of full-back Paolo Vaccari, number eight Carlo Checchinato and reserve scrum-half Juan Manuel Queirolo.
Forwards: Mauro Bergamasco, Alessandro Moscardi (capt) (both Treviso), Santiago Dellape, Aaron Persico, Matthew Phillips (all Viadana), Giampiero De Carli, Andrea De Rossi, Andrea Moretti (all Calvisano), Marco Bortolami (Padova), Mark Giacheri (Sale/Eng), Salvatore Perugini (L’Aquila), Federico Pucciarello (Gloucester/Eng).
Backs: Denis Dallan, Matteo Mazzantini (both Treviso), Roberto Pedrazzi (Viadana), Cristian Zanoletti (Calvisano), Diego Dominguez (Stade Francais/Fra), Gert Peens (Piacenza), Ramiro Pez (Rotherham/Eng), Giovanni Raineri (Roma), Cristian Stoica (Castres/Fra), Alessandro Troncon (Montferrand/Fra).