CIan Healy and Donncha Ryan have been brought into the Irish side to face Italy on Saturday, 11th February, in Rome at 2.25 (Irish time). They’re the only changes to the XV that lost so decisively to Scotland on the opening day of the 6 Nations.
Healy replaces Jack McGrath, who moves to the bench, while Ryan comes in for Iain Henderson, who was injured in the Scotland game and isn’t in the squad. Ultan Dillane is the second row replacement on the bench.
Craig Gilroy takes the place of fellow Ulster man, Tommy Bowe, who has been released to play in Ulster’s Pro12 game against Edinburgh. Bowe made his first appearance for Ireland since the 2015 World Cup when he came off the bench against Scotland, but was way off his best.
Ireland were completely shell-shocked by a resurgent Scotland in last week’s clash. The Scots put in one of their most impressive performances since the 6 Nations started and completely overwhelmed the much fancied Irish side.
Scotland proved a lot of pundits wrong, myself included, by completely dominating Ireland, scoring 3 tries and leading for most of the game. Ireland were lucky to take the lead in the 2nd half, but Scotland wouldn’t give up and won the game with 2 late penalties.
Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg scored 2 great tries and put himself as first choice for the coveted Lions start in a man-of the match display. Alex Dunbar scored Scotland’s third try, running over unchallenged from a line-out.
It was one of the most gift-wrapped tries I have ever seen in any level of rugby. An inexperienced schoolboy side would have been embarrassed to concede such a score. You could tell that even the Scots were shocked that the move worked.
The Scots dominated all over the park but the stand out performances came from the 2 Gray brothers at second row. Richie Gray shined at the line-out and at the breakdown and Jonny Gray topped the tackle count with a Scottish record of 28. They should both be joining Hogg in the red of the Lions.
Greg Laidllaw also captained well from scrum-half and put in a perfect kicking display. He also kept opposing 9 Conor Murray quiet. It was one of the Munster scrum-half’s most ineffectual displays for Ireland.
Ireland hardly turned up in the first half and it seemed that they had been taken in by all their own hype. Scotland put in a very impressive display and will have caused a scare in the other teams. Their celebrations at the final whistle showed what an upset it was.
Ireland’s Grand Slam dream is over but they still have a chance to win the 6 Nations trophy. Perhaps the loss was a wakeup call that the team needed. They went into the game complacent and paid the price.
Pundits and fans can get taken in by the hype but the players and management and coaches must remain focused and never underestimate the opposition.
Ireland did come away with a losing bonus point which may help them when it comes down to the last games of the championship. Tadhg Furlong also did nothing wrong, playing well from the front and Devin Toner won 12 of 14 line outs.
Italy will be a tough challenge, especially with Conor O’Shea as coach. Italy led against Wales for the first half and if not for poor discipline, for which the referees possibly penalised them more than other teams, they may have finished the match much closer, than the 33-7 final score.
Former Ireland full-back and RTE pundit, O’Shea, will have the inside track on Ireland and will want to build on his sides historic win against South Africa last year.
They have one of the best no.8s in the world in captain Sergio Parisse, whom they perhaps rely on too much. Italy will be playing at home where they are at their most effective.
Ireland will need to remain strong throughout the game if they want to win and win comfortably. If the team had beaten Scotland, I would have rested some of the players but they will need to regain their confidence.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: N Scannell, J McGrath, J Ryan, U Dillane, J van der Flier, K Marmion, I Keatley, C Gilroy.
Italy: E Padovani, A Esposito, T Benvenuti, L Mclean, G Venditti, C Canna, E Gori, S Parisse, S Favaro, M Mbanda, A Van Schalkwyk, M Fuser, L Cittadini, L Ghiraldini, A Lovotti.
Replacements: O Gega, S Panico, D Chistolini, G Biagi, A Steyn, G Bronzini, T Allan, M Campagnaro.