Sunday October 2 has been marked as an important day in the diary of Irish rugby since the arrangements for the Rugby World Cup were announced and as the big day rolls around, it is as important as ever – but not for the exact reasons many had anticipated.
The meeting of Ireland and Italy was always pencilled in as a sudden-death decider with progress to the quarter-finals the prize and although that is still essentially the case, there is a more glittering reward in Irish sights.
Top spot in Pool C and a theoretically more appealing assignment in the last-eight of the tournament is the incentive for Ireland to overcome the Azzurri and Paddy Power, official bookmaker to the IRFU, reckons it is a task they are well able to accomplish.
The Irish are hot 1/10 favourites to win the match and the handicap of Ireland -12 points at 10/11 also suggests they are the superior team.
It is clearly going to be a ferociously competitive contest. You only have to cast your mind back to February this year for a reminder of how difficult the Italians can make life.
They produced a typically physical and disciplined performance to push Ireland all the way and it took some Ronan O’Gara magic to swing the contest in Ireland’s favour.
It will be difficult, but Ireland’s greater depth of talent is expected to see them through. The Italians boast a number of world class players throughout the team, but the combined sum of the ability at Declan Kidney’s disposal is expected to prevail.
Nick Mallet does not have a huge pool of players to choose from and previous Six Nations campaigns have shown that the Italian performances tend to fall away towards the end of a stamina-sapping run of games.
Ireland need to win by more than 12 points to cover the handicap and reassuringly, that is something they have managed in nine of their 14 meetings with the Italians since 2000.
The Alternative Winning Margin of Ireland to win by 11 to 20 points at 13/5 gives you the comfort of a rather wide range of options.
With the battle of the packs likely to go a long way to deciding how the game pans out, Sean O’Brien can expect a busy night.
His ball-carrying ability always make him one to watch in the try scorer markets. He is 14/1 to score the first try of the match and 3/1 to score a try at anytime in the match.
Given the nature of the game, one of the lesser known bets may come into play. It is a tempting 11/5 shot that any forward scores the first try of the match.
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