Kick-off: 1415, 25/02/2023
Stadium: Stadio Olimpico
Ireland are now red-hot favourites for outright glory in this year’s Six Nations after opening up with impressive wins over Wales and France.
Italy have shown some encouraging signs in losses to Les Bleus and England but another wooden spoon looks on the cards for the Azzurri.
We’re taking 6/1 for an away win by 16-20 points for our first Italy vs Ireland prediction.
Azzurri have it all to prove again
After taking France to the wire in round one, as well as toppling Wales and Australia last year, Italy travelled to Twickenham with renewed optimism.
However, they were surprisingly passive in a one-sided forward battle early on and went into the break 19-0 down.
Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley can take some heart from winning the second half 14-12 after Marco Riccioni and Alessandro Fusco ran in fine tries.
That was still a reality check, though, and coping with the physicality of Ireland will be another daunting task.
“We always knew England would come out and be very direct,” said Crowley. “They put us under pressure and got their driving maul going.
“They played as expected but we just did not handle it as well as we hoped to. They defended well and we were getting slow ball after slow ball.
“They controlled the breakdown, but you’ve got to have a plan B and we need to come up with a more accurate plan B.”
The support of a passionate home crowd and the threat of some rain around Rome on Saturday afternoon should at least prevent the Irish from running riot.
That makes Italy vs Ireland odds.
Sexton absence shouldn’t stop Irish
Ireland launched themselves into pole position for the title by beating defending champions France 32-19 on the back of an opening 34-10 success over Wales.
Captain Johnny Sexton will sit out this contest after sustaining a groin problem in the round-two win, but lock James Ryan is an able deputy as skipper.
The 26-year-old will lead his country for the seventh time and said: “We’ve got a core leadership group that has been there for the last couple of years that work well together.”
Ryan, who won his 50th Test cap last time out, believes Andy Farrell’s side are now better equipped to deal with the loss of star names.
He added: “If there’s an injury or someone pulls out late, there’s a no-excuse mentality in the group.
“Everyone has to be ready to play and fill that void, so that’s just the mentality of the team at the moment.”
Ireland’s strength in depth is now a very impressive asset and it is hard to see Italy halting the momentum of Farrell’s world number one outfit.
England 31-14 ITALY
IRELAND 32-19 France
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