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Ireland v Italy

Six Nations
Date: Saturday, 2 February
Kick-off: 1400 GMT
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin
BBC Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Sport website (UK users only) and 5 Live Sports Extra.
Highlights on BBC Sport website (UK users only). Watch in full on BBC iPlayer for seven days from Sunday (UK users only)

Ireland will aim to get back on track after their dire World Cup by earning a convincing win over Italy in Saturday's Six Nations opener at Croke Park.

Under-pressure coach Eddie O'Sullivan has opted to stick with 11 of the players that started in Ireland's final World Cup game against Argentina.

Italy also endured a disappointing World Cup and new coach Nick Mallet has selected a new half-back pairing.

Andrea Masi is picked at fly-half while Pietro Travagli starts at scrum-half.

Ireland's World Cup flop has meant an uneasy Six Nations build-up for O'Sullivan and his players although the recent good form displayed by Ronan O'Gara and his Munster colleagues offers some encouragement.

We were all saying what we could achieve and maybe we got ahead of ourselves

Brian O'Driscoll

However, O'Sullivan is taking a risk in sticking with a number of players who have continued to struggle for form since the World Cup.

The most notable of these is centre Gordon D'Arcy, while even skipper Brian O'Driscoll has come in for criticism after some of his Leinster performances.

For his part, O'Driscoll acknowledges that the debacle in France last September has diminished expectations.

"It's not the pressure of being expected to win, more just a pressure of improving on the World Cup," said O'Driscoll.

Ireland made little effort to mask their ambitions for the World Cup but O'Driscoll is adopting a totally different stance ahead of the Six Nations.

RECENT RESULTS
2007: Italy 24-51 Ireland
2006: Ireland 26-16 Italy
2005: Italy 17-28 Ireland
2004: Ireland 19-3 Italy
2003: Italy 13-37 Ireland
2002: Ireland 32-17 Italy
2001: Italy 22-41 Ireland
2000: Ireland 60-13 Italy

"We were all saying what we could achieve and maybe we got ahead of ourselves a little bit," he said.

"But we've taken a step back from that now in that nobody's spoken about anything other than the Italy game."

Ireland's changes from the defeat by the Pumas in the group stages of the World Cup see Rory Best and Malcolm O'Kelly replacing the suspended Jerry Flannery and injured Paul O'Connell in the pack.

Girvan Dempsey and Andrew Trimble return to the backs in place of Shane Horgan and the retired Denis Hickie.

The Italians were hugely unlucky to lose their World Cup warm-up game against the Irish in Belfast last August and they matched O'Sullivan's side during most of their last Six Nations visit to Dublin two years ago.

If I can develop a good half-back pairing it will stand Italy in good stead for the next four years

Italy coach Nick Mallett

Italy have never beaten Ireland in the Six Nations but they will have high hopes of at least equalling last season's two wins in the competition.

As ever, Italy will fancy their chances of matching Ireland up front, although the absence of injured second row Marco Bortolami is a blow for the visitors.

In all, there are five changes to the side that lost to Scotland in thier final group game at the World Cup.

Biarritz player Masi played at centre and wing in France but he will be making his first start at number 10 for the Italians.

Masi replaces Ramiro Pez, while scrum-half Travagli will be winning only his third cap.

606: DEBATE
FrankMonkey

In the front-row, hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini and prop Andrea Lo Cicero replace Carlo Festuccia and Salvatore Perugini, while Castres wing Pablo Canavosio takes Masi's place out wide.

Mallett says his decision to risk the untested half-back pairing is an investment for the future.

"If I can develop a good half-back pairing it will stand Italy in good stead for the next four years," said the Italian coach.

"I want to give the team variety. If it is pouring with rain and there's lots of wind, you'll see lots of kicking. If it is dry and we can pass, we'll pass the ball."


Ireland: Dempsey, Trimble, B O'Driscoll (capt), D'Arcy, Murphy, O'Gara, Reddan; Horan, Best, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Kelly, Easterby, D Wallace, Leamy.
Replacements: Jackman, Buckley, M O'Driscoll, Heaslip, Stringer, P Wallace, Kearney.

Italy: Bortolussi, Robertson, Canale, Mi Bergamasco, Canavosio, Masi, Travagli; Lo Cicero, Ghiraldini, Castrogiovanni, Dellape, Del Fava, Sole, Ma Bergamasco, Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Festuccia, Perugini, Nieto, Reato, Zanni, Marcato, Galon.


SEE ALSO
Six Nations Young Guns 2008
27 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations coaching brief
18 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations pundit predictions
28 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Masi given Italian fly-half role
30 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union


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