While Iain Henderson makes his first Six Nations start, Brian O’Driscoll will be playing his final home international for Ireland when the 2014 Championship resumes in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.
2014 RBS 6 NATIONS: Saturday, March 8
IRELAND (1st) v ITALY (6th), Aviva Stadium, 2.30pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One/RTÉ Radio 1/IRFU Live Blog)
Team News: Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made just one change to the team that narrowly lost to England for the clash with Italy this Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.
Iain Henderson lines out at blindside flanker in place of the sidelined Peter O’Mahony (hamstring strain).
Making his first Six Nations start, Henderson will form a back row partnership with his Ulster colleague Chris Henry and Ireland vice-captain Jamie Heaslip.
Paul O’Connell leads the side and packs down in an unchanged front five alongside Devin Toner, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
Jonathan Sexton has recovered from a thumb injury to take his place in the back-line that started against both Wales and England.
There are two changes on the bench with Rhys Ruddock replacing the starting Henderson and Eoin Reddan coming in for Isaac Boss who is rested this week.
Brian O’Driscoll will become the most-capped player in Test rugby history when making his 140th Test appearance (132 matches with Ireland and eight outings for the British & Irish Lions).
Meanwhile, second row Marco Bortolami will lead Italy into battle against Italy this weekend, captaining the team in the absence of Sergio Parisse (calf).
Head coach Jacques Brunel has made four changes to the Italy team that lost to Scotland last time out.
Talismanic number 8 and skipper Parisse has been ruled out with a calf injury. It is a precautionary move and it is hoped he will be able to return against England.
Fellow back rower Alessandro Zanni (knee) is also unavailable, with his injury set to keep him out of action for four to six weeks.
With Mauro Bergamasco and Francesco Minto also on the injury list, Brunel has moved Joshua Furno from the second row to blindside flanker where he links up with Paul Derbyshire and Robert Barbieri, who reverts to number 8.
The half-backs have been swapped around with Luciano Orquera and Ospreys player Tito Tebaldi starting in place of Tommaso Allan and Edoardo Gori respectively.
There are some further switches among the replacements with prop Michele Rizzo, Antonio Pavanello, Manoa Vosawai and former Player of the Championship Andrea Masi gaining call-ups.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Martin Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
ITALY: Luke McLean (Benetton Treviso); Angelo Esposito (Benetton Treviso), Michele Campagnaro (Benetton Treviso), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre); Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Tito Tebaldi (Ospreys); Alberto de Marchi (Benetton Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre) (capt), Joshua Furno (Biarritz Olympique), Paul Derbyshire (Benetton Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Benetton Treviso).
Replacements: Davide Giazzon (Zebre), Michele Rizzo (Benetton Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Benetton Treviso), Antonio Pavanello (Benetton Treviso), Manoa Vosawai (Benetton Treviso), Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Andrea Masi (London Wasps).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Greg Garner (England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 1/100; Draw: 50/1; Italy to win: 25/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Ireland) – “I think sometimes if you go out trying to win everything in the first part of the game, you actually frustrate yourself and you can be overly anxious.
“You can try overly hard and in the end it’s very difficult to make things come off. So what we’d think is that we’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to be really well prepared individually and as a collective.
“Italy are going to make it really tough – and if we’re not up to it they’ve proven that they can easily get results.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for Italy and we know that we’ve got to get things right ourselves. Yes, we’d love to go to Paris with a good (points) differential, but we need to get to Paris with three wins and that’s still our primary goal.
“One of the good things, I think, is that we’ve got a very smart group of men and we can very quickly change the shape of what we’re doing.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can play a few different ways so far in the tournament.
“We can change that up a little if we need to in the last 20 or 30 minutes, or it may be at half-time we get together and maybe change a few things.”
Marco Bortolami (Italy) – “Brian (O’Driscoll) is one of the greatest, the way he has lasted so long and the qualities he has shown, it’s amazing.
“It’s very difficult to keep the same level for 15 years, and to be involved with Ireland for that long, to go on that many Lions tours, it’s amazing.
“It’s been a pleasure to play against him many, many times, and I think everyone will agree with me on that.
“I think Ireland are very proud of what they can produce and their style of rugby right now. I think they are sure they will win this game but they lost last year in Rome.
“We have come from a very tough game against Scotland last wee. We are underdogs, and we are under no illusions, but if we play a proper game we can put them under pressure.
“If you let them do what they want, they can control a game and they will win. The way they play yes, I do believe they are the best team (in the tournament).
“I wasn’t surprised they lost last week. They were in control of the game, but opportunities didn’t go their way.
“The way they play, they are very consistent, good kicking game and put teams under pressure, play in the right areas. When they get in the 22 they build opportunities to score.
“It seems they don’t have any weaknesses but we know how we’re going to put them under pressure.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2011: RBS 6 Nations: Italy 11 Ireland 13, Stadio Flaminio; Rugby World Cup Pool C: Ireland 36 Italy 6, Otago Stadium
2012: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 42 Italy 10, Aviva Stadium
2013: RBS 6 Nations: Italy 22 Ireland 15, Stadio Olimpico