Ireland v Italy preview: Luck of the Irish to seal quarter final berth
- Win for Ireland would set up pool decider against France in Cardiff
- Joe Schmidt makes 11 changes to the team that beat Romania
- Simon Zebo retains the full-back spot as Rob Kearney continues to recover from a hip injury
- Talismanic captain Sergio Parisse returns for Italy
The home nation made light work of both Canada and Romania as expected, achieving maximum points to sit second in Pool D. Another win here will eliminate Italy and set up a pool decider against France.
Ireland faces their first real test of this World Cup as they meet old Six Nations foe Italy for the 25th time at the Olympic Stadium.
Joe Schmidt’s men looked formidable against the two minnows of the Pool, scoring a combined 13 tries against Canada and Romania.
There are certainly chinks in the armour however, with both of the tier two nations managing to pierce a way through to the try line.
Italy laboured to the slenderest of wins against the Canucks after being dominated by France in their opening match. The return of talismanic captain Sergio Parisse will certainly galvanize the squad, who know nothing less than victory here will suffice.
There are 11 alterations to the side that dismantled Romania, with Schmidt paying the Italians respect by naming his strongest available side.
Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Iain Henderson, Mike Ross, Rory Best and Jack McGrath all return to the starting X5.
Simon Zebo retains the full-back spot as Rob Kearney continues to recover from a hip injury, with Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw remaining in the backs.
The headline news for Italy is that star man Parisse returns at Number eight in place of the steady if unspectacular Samuela Vunisa.
Matias Aguero and Andrea Manici replace Michele Rizzo and the injured Leonardo Ghiraldini in the front row, whilst record capped Italian Martin Castrogiovanni is out of the 23 due to injury.
Simone Favaro also joins the forwards while Michele Campagnaro returns to outside centre in place of Tommaso Benvenuti.
Players to watch
The basis for all victories over Italy starts with a solid build up of points from the tee. Jonny Sexton remains one of the best fly-halfs in world rugby, but we are yet to see the best of him in this year’s competition. His famed accuracy will be crucial against an Italian side that has shown great indiscipline thus far, whilst he will also be integral to pulling the strings and carving them open as they hunt for four crucial tries.
This is Italy’s World Cup final, and they will be all the more fired up for it with the return of their irreplaceable leader. Perhaps the result against France would have been different had the inspirational Number eight been fit. Who knows. All that matters is that he is back now, when his nation needs him the most. Italy know that they will have to play the game of their lives in order to defeat the Six Nations Champions, but if anyone can drag them to victory, it is Parisse.
This could well be yet another walk over for Ireland in terms of the final score, but they are sure to receive a real test against the tenacious Italians. As free flowing as Ireland have been in attack, there are clear vulnerabilities at the back, which the Azzurri are more than capable of exploiting. Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan will have to bring his A game to keep his side in the match, while the team as a whole will need to be far more disciplined than they have been to avoid handing the result to Ireland. The head to head does not make good reading for Italy, with 20 Ireland wins to their four. One of those Azzurri victories did come as recently as two years ago in the Six Nations, but Ireland’s experience should tell in the end.
Ireland by 15.
Ireland: 15. Simon Zebo; 14. Tommy Bowe, 13. Keith Earls, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Dave Kearney; 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Conor Murray; 8. Jamie Heaslip, 7. Sean O’Brien, 6. Peter O’Mahony,5. Paul O’Connell, 4. Iain Henderson, 3. Mike Ross, 2. Rory Best, 1. Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Nathan White, 19. Devin Toner, 20. Chris Henry, 21. Eoin Reddan, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Luke Fitzgerald
Italy: 15. Luke McLean; 14. Leonardo Sarto, 13. Michele Campagnaro, 12. Gonzalo Garcia, 11. Giovanbattista Venditti; 10. Tommaso Allan, 9. Edoardo Gori; 8. Sergio Parisse, 7. Simone Favaro, 6. Francesco Minto, 5. Josh Furno, 4. Quintin Geldenhuys, 3. Lorenzo Cittadini, 2. Andrea Manici, 1. Matias Aguero
Replacements: 16. Davide Giazzon, 17. Michele Rizzo, 18. Dario Chistolini, 19. Alessandro Zanni, 20. Mauro Bergamasco, 21. Guglielmo Palazzani, 22. Carlo Canna, 23. Tommaso Benvenuti.
Date: Sunday, October 4
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere, Angus Gardner
Television match official: Graham Hughes