Ireland v Italy preview: Team news, kick-off time, line-ups and stats for the Six Nations clash
Ireland have made two changes to their side to face Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday
Stuart McCloskey, who made his Test debut against England a fortnight ago, drops out of the squad altogether
Hooker Rory Best will captain the side on his 50th championship appearance
Fly-half Edoardo Padovani makes his first start as one of four changes for the Azzurri
Ireland will be looking for a shot at redemption when they host Italy in their bottom of the table clash in Dublin on Saturday.
Both sides are winless after three rounds of matches with Ireland lying above the Azzurri on the table thanks to their draw against Wales in their opener.
As the defending champions, Ireland know nothing less than a convincing victory will appease their demanding fans. After guiding his adoptive country to back-to-back Championship triumphs, Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt has found the going tough in the last six months.
Jared Payne and Simon Zebo will start for Ireland after Rob Kearney was ruled out by injury. The fullbacks’ hamstring injury means that Zebo will start at full-back.
Payne has recovered from a hamstring injury sustained against France which kept him out of the defeat by England. The New Zealand native resumes his centre pairing with Robbie Henshaw as Stuart McCloskey drops out of the squad despite impressing on his debut.
Italy’s four changes from 36-20 defeat by Scotland include a new half-back pairing in Zebre duo Guglielmo Palazzani and Edoardo Padovani.
Scrum-half Palazzani has 18 caps but will be making his first Six Nations start as he replaces injured Edoardo Gori.
Padovani displaces Kelly Haimona at fly-half while the other changes see hooker Davide Giazzon and lock George Biagi taking over from injured pair Leonardo Ghiraldini and Josh Furno.
Italy’s only win in the last 21 meetings was by 22-15 in Rome in the 2013 Six Nations.
Ireland have won 12 of their 13 home Tests against Italy, including 11 in a row since a 37-29 defeat at Lansdowne Road in January 1997.
Ireland are winless in four Test matches. They have not endured a five-match streak without a victory since 2012.
They could go three successive home games without a win for the first time in more than four years.
Italy have lost 10 of the 12 matches they have played in the last 12 months, with their only wins coming in the World Cup pool stage against Canada and Romania.
Their only Six Nations win in 13 attempts since beating Ireland in 2013 came against Scotland in Edinburgh last year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ireland: Robbie Henshaw
Powerful centre Henshaw started all of Ireland’s matches in last year’s victorious Six Nations, scoring a memorable try against England along the way. He’s a firm favourite of Joe Schmidt’s; dynamic in attack but robust defensively. Probably the northern hemisphere’s best complete centre.
Italy: Sergio Parisse
This Italian No. 8 is the genuine colossus of European rugby. His leadership, flair and ability to get over the gainline will be key to Italy as they attempt to finish off the bottom of the Six Nations for a second consecutive year following their fifth place finish in 2015.
2015: Ireland won 16-9 in London
2015: Ireland won 26-3 in Rome
2014: Ireland won 46-7 in Dublin
2013: Italy won 22-15 in Rome
2012: Ireland won 42-10 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 36-6 in Dunedin
2011: Ireland won 13-11 in Rome
2010: Ireland won 29-11 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 38-9 in Rome
2008: Ireland won 16-11 in Dublin
2007: Ireland won 23-20 in Belfast
2007: Ireland won 51-24 in Rome
2006: Ireland won 26-16 in Dublin
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden
Italy: 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Alberto Lucchese, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean
Date: Saturday, 12 March
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 13:30 GMT
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)