Ireland had the rare taste of defeat in their opening 6 nations game but they were soon back on the winning trail and it’s no surprise that they are long odds on to make it back to back wins against Italy tomorrow.
Their opening defeat against England – Joe Schmidt’s first defeat at Aviva in 12 Six Nations home games – was put aside as they ground out victory over Scotland, a success which had all the hallmarks of a Joe Schmidt success. Heading to a venue that Scotland had made a real fortress in the past couple of years, they managed to front up to the Scottish pack and engage them in an arm wrestle for enough of the game to prevent the hosts from cutting loose.
Scotland had the initial advantage – and quite markedly too – but a moment of invention from Jacob Stockdale eventually saw Conor Murray pick up the bouncing ball, and from then on they grabbed their foothold.
Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Sean O’Brien, Kilcoyne, Cian Healy and Jack Conan would all have good reason to be much happier with their work than they were against England, and the fact that Ireland managed to hold off Scotland with a 26 phase defensive set at the end of the first half sums up much of the game.
That spells an issue for Italy, who have managed to keep the scoreline respectable in their two games but with varying degrees of luck for both games. They were trailing by 30 points before Simon Berghan’s yellow card gave them a man advantage against Scotland and an almost entirely changed Welsh side struggled to gel when visiting last week.
Italy did have a number of decent performances as they went down 26-15 – Leonardo Ghiraldini was impressive at the lineout as Italy won 10 of their 11 set-piece throws, try scorer Braam Steyn carried brilliantly, and Edoardo Padovani was always a handful – but the Irish side that travels here is far more settled than the Welsh outfit a fortnight ago.
Four changes have been made in the pack but locks Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane play together for Connacht, Sean Cronin is the most capped test player from the bench and the rest of the side is the same.
Ireland have been dominant in the last four editions of this fixture, scoring at least 54 points in the last four meetings between the two, so they should be capable of passing the 44-point mark that Paddy Power set, and taking a high scoring game.
3 pts Ireland to score over 43.5 pts (4/5 Paddy Power)
2 pts Ireland to win and over 57.5 pts (8/11 Paddy Power)