After beating France in a classic last time out, many would have assumed that Ireland’s trip to Rome should be a breeze and a bit of a hassle as Andy Farrell’s men inch closer to what many predicted will be a well-deserved Grand Camp. But this is the Six Nations and Italy are no longer the beating boys, as their performance against the French in round one showed. Add to that a new pair of front-backs for the Irish and the reasons for not accepting today’s hosts grow ever more significant.
Ireland coach Farrell insists the seven changes he has made for today’s game are far from underestimating the challenge Italy will face in Rome, adding that it is worth two rookie half-backs Ross Byrne and Craig Casey have the chance to run the show i. Rome.
Byrne will represent the injured Johnny Sexton in the Leinster team in the No 10 jersey and Casey will replace another Munster man, Conor Murray. The new duo combined well from the bench in wins against Wales and France in the opening two rounds of the tournament and Farrell is hoping for more of that at the Stadio Olimpico.
“They have earned the right to start,” said Farrell. “And, from what we’ve seen so far, it’s a good start to the week.
“The preparation has been great and yeah, it seems they are ready for it.”
Speaking specifically about Byrne, he continued: “He’s been excellent. He’s earned the right to run the team and translate everything we’ve seen in training into a performance that he has authority and brings to his team. “
Byrne feared his Test career would be over before he returned from 20 months in the international wilderness to kick the decisive penalty in Ireland’s victory over Australia in the autumn.
Only two of his previous 16 caps have been won as a starter, and Casey, who made his first trip to Italy two years ago, has only started a game for his country once before.
Cap Ronan Kelleher, lock Iain Henderson, No 8 Jack Conan and center Bundee Aki have also been recalled to face the Azzurri.
Only two of the changes have been made, with Sexton and Tadhg Beirne ruled out with injuries in the 32-19 victory over the French.
Farrell dismissed the notion that he shook things up “for the sake of it” and expects his Grand Slam-chasing side to produce their best display of the tournament so far.
“We’ve been together for a good few weeks now, so people are definitely aware of it,” he said.
“People wouldn’t be chosen if they weren’t in the right place.
“We’re not just turning things around for the sake of it, we’re turning things around because we think it’s a strong side for us going forward, for this game and for the future as well.
“I don’t think there have been many changes, to be fair.
“The fact of the matter is, this is our third game of the competition and we expect it to be our best performance in the competition. That’s how it should be and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Stay here for the pre-game build up and action from the eternal city.