As the Guinness Men's Six Nations tournament continues its unpredictable journey, all eyes turn to Dublin today as Ireland welcome Italy to the Aviva Stadium. Fresh from a resounding victory against France - and even fresher for not having played for nine days - Ireland enter the contest with confidence, eager to extend their winning streak and maintain their dominance in the Championship.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has emphasised the importance of maintaining focus and momentum, and highlighted the team's determination to keep the ball rolling and secure another vital victory. Former Ireland wing Andrew Conway described in his column for Six Nations Rugby how perilous the first game after a big win can be, but added that a coach of Farrell’s intellect would have soon stamped out any perceived sense of underestimating the opponents.
As Farrell shuffles his deck for today’s clash, six changes to the starting line-up underscore the depth of his squad. Notably, Caelan Doris assumes the mantle of captain for the first time, following a stellar performance in Marseille, confirming his emergence as a key figure in the Irish setup.
However, Italy arrive in Dublin with renewed vigour and feeling ever so slightly aggrieved after their a strong but ultimately losing performance against England in round one. Despite falling short in that narrow defeat, Italy's improved performance signals their intent to challenge a powerhouse of the global game in Dublin. With Gonzalo Quesada at the helm for only his second game in charge, they’ll be seeking to capitalise on the slightest of opportunities allowed them, and to disrupt Ireland's rhythm.
Key battles await on the field, and the midfield clash between Ireland's Stuart McCloskey and Italy's Tommaso Menoncello is poised to be a focal point of the match. McCloskey's inclusion in the starting lineup adds a dynamic dimension to Ireland's armoury, while 21-year-old Menoncello’s flair could be crucial to any Italian potential to cause an upset.
With Ireland's formidable home record and Italy's burgeoning confidence, are we in for a memorable encounter in Dublin?
Ireland v Italy kicks off at 15:00 in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.