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2019 6 Nations – Johne’s Italy v Ireland match preview

Ireland are off to Rome with a spring in their step after surviving Murrayfield and getting a full training week under their belts.  Can they now burst back into full form against an Italian squad desperate to get a result to save their 6 Nations campaign? PSA Academies’ Johne Murphy analyses what might play out in Rome

2019 RUGBY ACADEMIES – #MaximiseYourPotential



First and foremost it’s hard not to feel like the  6 Nations gap week came at the perfect time for an Irish side that was clearly bruised and battered, both physically and mentally, by the opening fortnight block of the 2019 6 Nations Championship.

Whilst clearly not flawless, the management and squad rightly took a lot of positives out of what was a really decent win away to a Scottish team that would have fancied their chances in Murrayfield.  How much the win was down to Ireland improving versus Scotland regressing is hard to say and to be honest, it’s ancient history now.  The squad look like they’ve banked the good and discarded the bad, with what looks to have been a really positive training camp since the Scotland game.

It’s noticeable that the mood music has really changed this week – maybe that has a little to do with travelling to Rome rather than a Twickenham, Paris or Cardiff this weekend but its hard not to also feel like it reflects a much healthier mindset for the whole set up.  Yes, they’re effectively back at square one, with the real likelihood that a Championship is beyond them if England do a number on Wales in Cardiff BUT they’ll be looking to treat these next three games as a really useful, last round of competitive fixtures in their pre-World Cup prep.  For more than the obvious reasons (!), we’ve got to hope that Wales sneak a win this weekend as a Welsh team playing for a Grand Slam in the final round of matches is exactly the type of opportunity that Joe and the players would want to show that the English no show is gone out of their system.

In terms of the team selection for Sunday, it is great to see a reshuffle in the pack., with the players coming in fully deserving their opportunity to show their starting mettle, especially with Japan in mind. Sean Cronin’s inclusion  allows him what has been a rare chance to showcase his form, power and dynamism from the get go.  The same can be said for all the changes up front, with Dave Kilcoyne, Ultane Dillane and the all action Jordi Murphy getting the chance to show their own credentials in what should be a really good hit out.

On face value, this is a pack that is designed to ball carry and attack, so it will be interesting to see how much leeway Joe and Simon Easterby have given them in the gameplan to really be aggressive in this respect.  I think we will see an obvious dialing up of our multi phase plan to reflect this. Ireland were unable to get much positive momentum against England and Scotland, for differing reasons, primarily England’s dominance in the collisions and Scotland’s lack of accuracy. These are fundamentals to Ireland’s multi phase attack and whilst the Italians will fight for every yard early on, Ireland will be looking to tire them out to create the set piece dominance and open field mismatches in defence that can really get the scoreboard moving from early on.

The big challenge, and what we’re really hoping to see an improvement in after their Carton House training time, is the cohesion and accuracy across all facets of the game.  Apart from the injuries to usual starters like Gary Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and CJ Stander, plus the key players rested, this Irish side does at least have continuity in terms of key units, like the backrow (where Jordi Murphy is a regular moonlighter), half backs and the backline that started against Scotland.  I really don’t expect to see many of the enforced errors that we saw crop up against England and to a lesser extent Scotland show up here.

Another fascinating aspect of the game is the Irish bench, with big opportunities aplenty for guys in decent provincial form.  A lot of eyes will be on what sort of impression John Cooney and Jack Carty can create, especially given the early form struggles of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton but for even the more experienced guys coming into the game, like Niall Scannell, Jack McGrath and Andrew Conway, it is a massive chance in one of only three competitive games left before that plane leaves for Japan in the Autumn.

As for Italy, it is hard not to feel for Conor O’Shea and his squad as they are clearly not yet getting the payoff on the scoreboard for what must be a huge amount of positive groundwork going on behind the scenes.  They are definitely on the right track based on the Pro14 club and U20s performances but it could take the whole 2023 Rugby World Cup cycle before they show this at Senior level.  Last time out, they were typically competitive and gritty against a changed Welsh team that may have had it’s mind more on this weekend’s visit of England but even then, they didn’t have the game to ever really threaten an upset.

This weekend they are without their hugely experienced talisman Sergio Parisse and while his best days are behind him, the number 8 is still a hugely influence on the defensive side of the ball.   They will do their best to turn the game into a scrappy, enforced error mess but I simply can’t see them living with Ireland at set piece or the breakdown.  The likelihood is that desperation will translate into indiscipline and with a Kiwi ref like Glen Jackson on the whistle, any cynical and obvious killing of ball will end up with penalties and bin time, when the real damage is likely to get done.

So, I’m confident enough in predicting an impressive performance and a bonus point win for Ireland, allowing us the ideal run into to really critical games versus France at home (who should beat Scotland) and Wales in an epic finale

Finally, a shout out to my old Munster teammate, housemate and fellow Rugby & Racing Syndicate member Andrew Conway, who fully deserves his chance back in the matchday squad on Sunday.  It’s been an frustrating few months or so for Andrew and hopefully he can get on early enough to really make a big impact against tiring Italian legs.

Prediction: Ireland by 19 points

See all the picks for the PSA Academies 2019 NatWest 6 Nations Predictions Challenge here 



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