The Ireland Women and Under-20s are first into action tonight, taking on their Italy counterparts in Florence and Biella respectively as the opening RBS 6 Nations weekend gets underway. Then, tomorrow afternoon sees the start of Ireland’s title defence as Joe Schmidt’s men look to make a winning start against the Azzurri in Rome.
UNDER-20 RBS 6 NATIONS: Friday, February 6
ITALY UNDER-20s v IRELAND UNDER-20s, Stadio Pozzi Lamarmora, Biella, 7pm local time/6pm Irish time (live Rai Sport 1)
– The Italy Under-20s won two games at the Junior World Championship in New Zealand last summer – against Argentina and Fiji – something they have not done since 2009
– Italy’s only victory in the Under-20 Six Nations in their last 15 encounters came against Scotland in Fontanafredda in round 3 last year
– The Ireland Under-20s beat Wales and Fiji at the Junior World Championship last summer, and in the 2014 Six Nations they won in Athlone against Scotland (34-7) and Italy (18-0)
– The two sides have met on nine previous occasions in all tournaments with Ireland being unbeaten, there being a 25-all draw in L’Aquila in the final round of 2013’s Six Nations tournament
– The Italy Under-20’s only previous match at Biella was a defeat to Wales in 2009
ITALY U-20: Giacomo de Santis (Cammi Calvisano); Luca Sperandio (Marchiol Mogliano), Matteo Gabbianelli (Pesaro Rugby), Enrico Lucchin (Marchiol Mogliano), Yannick Agbasse (Asolo Rugby); Maicol Azzolini (Pesaro Rugby), Luca Petrozzi (Benetton Treviso); Dino Dallavalle (Rugby Viadana), Luhandre Luus (Accademia FIR), Paolo Buonfiglio (Marchiol Mogliano) (capt), Davide Zanetti (Cammi Calvisano), Davide Fragnito (Rugby Benevento), Matteo Archetti (Rugby Rovato), Dennis Bergamin (Valsugana Padova), Renato Giammarioli (Rugby Città di Frascati).
Replacements: Vincenzo Barbuscia (Messina Rugby Clan), Enjel Makelara (Marchiol Mogliano), Federico Pavesi (Cammi Calvisano), Ugo d’Onofrio (L’Aquila Rugby), Matteo Cornelli (Marchiol Mogliano), Riccardo Raffaele (L’Aquila Rugby), Matteo Minozzi (Valsugana Padova), Tommaso Beraldin (Valsugana Padova).
IRELAND U-20: Billy Dardis (UCD/Leinster); Greg O’Shea (Shannon/Munster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Fergal Cleary (Lansdowne/Leinster), Jack Owens (Queen’s University Belfast/Ulster); Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Nick McCarthy (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Jeremy Loughman (UCD/Leinster), Zack McCall (Queen’s University Belfast/Ulster), Oisin Heffernan (Terenure College/Leinster), David O’Connor (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Alex Thompson (Queen’s University Belfast/Ulster), Josh Murphy (UCD/Leinster), Rory Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht), Lorcan Dow (Queen’s University Belfast/Ulster).
Replacements: Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), Michael Lagan (Ballymena/Ulster), Conan O’Donnell (Sligo/NUIG/Connacht), Cian Romaine (Buccaneers/Connacht), Nick Timoney (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jack Cullen (Shannon/Munster), Joey Carbery (UCD/Leinster), Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch/Ulster).
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, Jon Hardy (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
WOMEN’S RBS 6 NATIONS: Friday, February 6
ITALY WOMEN v IRELAND WOMEN, Stadio Mario Lodigiani, Florence, 7pm Irish time/6pm local time (live stream on www.youtube.com/fedrugby)
– The Italy Women’s team achieved their best ever Six Nations finish last season – fourth – winning two games against Wales and Scotland
– The Ireland Women’s finished in fourth place at the World Cup in France last August, having claimed third spot in the Six Nations earlier in the year
– Ireland’s only defeat in their last five matches came against England in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Paris
– The two countries have met on a dozen previous occasions in a Women’s international with Italy’s only previous win being 13-5 in Nice in their first encounter back in April 1997
ITALY WOMEN: Manuela Furlan (Benetton Treviso); Maria Diletta Veronese (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Sofia Stefan (Rennes), Maria Grazia Cioffi (Rugby Benevento), Michela Sillari (HBS Colorno); Veronica Schiavon (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Sara Barattin (Rugby Casale); Elisa Cucchiella (Belve NeroVerdi), Lucia Cammarano (SR Monza 1949), Melissa Bettoni (Rennes), Flavia Severin (Benetton Treviso), Alice Trevisan (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Ilaria Arrighetti (ASR Monza 1949), Elisa Giordano (Valsugana Padova), Silvia Gaudino (ASR Monza) (capt).
Replacements: Awa Coulibaly (Rennes), Irene Campanini (HBS Colorno), Michela Este (Benetton Treviso), Alessia Pantarotto (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Valentina Ruzza (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Beatrice Rigoni (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Paola Zangirolami (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Maria Magatti (ASR Monza 1949).
IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Skewen); Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Gillian Bourke (Olympico de Pozuelo), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster).
Replacements: Sarah Mimnagh (Wasps/Exile), Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster), Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary’s/Leinster), Katie Norris (Blackrock/Leinster), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht).
Referee: Sara Cox (England)
Assistant Referees: Maria Beatrice Benvenuti, Clara Munarini (both Italy)
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, February 7
ITALY v IRELAND, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 3.30pm local time/2.30pm Irish time (live RTÉ Two/BBC One/RTÉ Radio 1)
STATS & FACTS
– Italy’s only victory in their last twelve matches since mid-November 2013 was 24-13 over Samoa at Ascoli in the first round of the recent autumn internationals
– Since they beat Ireland in Rome in round 5 of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, Italy have recorded only two Test victories, against Fiji and Samoa
– Perhaps surprisingly during Italy’s last nine RBS 6 Nations encounters where their record is won one, lost eight, they have only failed to score a try in one match, against Wales in 2013, but prevented their opponents scoring a try twice: against England and Ireland in successive games in 2013
– Italy’s record in round 1 since they joined the RBS 6 Nations in 2000 is won three – against Scotland in 2000, Wales in 2003 and France in 2013 – and lost twelve.
– Ireland have won their last seven Test matches since their 13-10 reversal to England at Twickenham in round 3 of last season’s Championship. This represents Ireland’s best winning run since eight victories in a row in 2008-2009
– Since 2001 Ireland have only been defeated in round 1 of the RBS 6 Nations on two occasions, against France in Paris in 2004 and at home to Wales 2012
– Italy have won just one of their last 19 encounters with Ireland – in Rome in 2013 – and are going for successive home wins over the Irishmen for only the second time after doing in Treviso in 1995 and Bologna in 1997
ITALY: Andrea Masi (Wasps); Leonardo Sarto (Zebre), Michele Campagnaro (Benetton Treviso), Luca Morisi (Benetton Treviso), Luke McLean (Sale Sharks); Kelly Haimona (Zebre), Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso); Matias Aguero (Zebre), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester Tigers), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Josh Furno (Newcastle Falcons), George Biagi (Zebre), Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso), Francesco Minto (Benetton Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais) (capt).
Replacements: Andrea Manici (Zebre), Alberto de Marchi (Sale Sharks), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Marco Fuser (Benetton Treviso), Marco Barbini (Benetton Treviso), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Giovambattista Venditti (Zebre).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht), Simon Zebo (Cork Con/Munster); Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), James Cronin (Dolphin/Munster), Martin Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster), Isaac Boss (Terenure/Leinster), Ian Madigan (Blackrock/Leinster), Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster).
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
– Compiled by SFMS Limited (Stuart Farmer Media Services)