Battle to beat the wooden spoon
March 15, 2013
Brian O'Driscoll has been passed fit for the clash in Rome © PA Photos
Ireland will hope to finish their Six Nations campaign on a high, and avoid any possibility of a wooden spoon, when they travel to Rome to face Italy this weekend.
Head to Head
Declan Kidney's men were being touted as potential champions after their opening weekend win over Wales. Brian O'Driscoll was at his best and a glorious swansong for the Irish great was on. But demoralising defeats to England and Scotland, along with a frustrating draw against France, has left Ireland reeling. And if they lose to Italy and France beat Scotland on the final weekend, they will endure the ignominy of picking up the wooden spoon.
Again early optimism unravelled rapidly for the Italians as their famous win over France was followed by heavy defeat to Scotland and Wales. With the inspirational leader Sergio Parisse back in the side for their clash with England, they put up a spirited and ferocious fight at Twickenham but ultimately slumped to their third loss of the championship. All of which leaves Italy just one point behind Ireland in the Six Nations table. Defeat to the Irish, along with a French victory over the Scots, would leave them at the foot of the table for the fourth time in the last five years.
Italy - Player to Watch: Luciano Orquera has had a typically mixed tournament. After his star turn against France, he endured a poor day at Murrayfield, was dropped for the Wales game and landed just 50% of his kicks against England. He will have to be at his best if Italy are to score the points to upset Ireland.
Italy - Team News: Italy make three changes to the side that almost rocked England's Grand Slam hopes at Twickenham. Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni has failed to recover from a thigh injury and is replaced by Lorenzo Cittadini at tighthead. Blindside flanker Robert Barbieri is another casualty from the England clash with a hip injury prompting a promotion for Simone Favaro. While the final change sees veteran Andrea Lo Cicero preferred to Alberto De Marchi at loose-head.
Ireland - Player to Watch: O'Driscoll has been hinting at continuing his career beyond this season. But the rigours of a potential Lions tour to Australia this summer and the fitting ending it would provide, especially in victory, suggests this could be the 34-year-old's final appearance in the green of Ireland.
Ireland - Team News: Paddy Jackson is handed the No.10 shirt once again after Jonny Sexton was ruled out of the match just hours after being named in the starting line-up. Sexton continues to struggle with a hamstring injury so Ian Madigan will once again provide cover for Jackson from the bench. Craig Gilroy, who missed the draw with France last weekend with a groin strain, returns in place of Fergus McFadden while uncapped scrum-half Paul Marshall is named on the bench after Eoin Reddan suffered a broken leg. In another change to the bench lock Devin Toner comes into the squad in place of Donncha O'Callaghan.
Key Battle:The battle at scrum time will be a fascinating clash between the old stagers of Italy and Ireland's more dynamic trio, who will want to press home their scrummaging prowess to the Lions coaches. With both sides struggling to score tries so penalties at the scrum will be highly prized.
Trivia: Italy have not finished the championship with two victories to their name since 2007.
Stats: Ireland have never picked up the wooden spoon since the start of the Six Nations and their last bottom-place finish came in 1998.
Betting: Italy skipper Sergio Parisse is 16/1 to score the first try at the Stadio Olympico with Bet365 while who would bet against O'Driscoll crossing for his 48th international try? He is at 10/1 to score first.
"Winning on Saturday is fundamental; we can't judge our tournament before the Ireland game. We can talk of the assessment of the tournament on Sunday"
"We took a conscious decision that we wouldn't complain about things. Other people are worse off than we are, plus it's such an insult to the lads coming on and having a huge go."
Prediction: Italy proved at Twickenham just how tough their defensive line is to break down and Ireland face another ferocious battle this weekend. But they should have the class and the kicking accuracy to ensure a mid table finish.
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