Italy play us in the opening game of the World Cup warm ups. They have not beaten us in a long time and the gap is not due to close anytime soon.
Joe has had to play a reasonably experimental team, with quite a few fringe players given the difficult chance of trying to impress against a weaker opposition.
|Devin Toner||5||Budd (Captain)|
|Rhys Ruddock (Captain)||6||Licata|
With Johnny Sexton still nursing an injured thumb, it leaves room for Joey Carberry to come into the team at out half, giving Jack Carty a spot on the bench. Both men will relish some game time in their preferred position.
Jean Kleyn gets his first start for Ireland. The South African born player has a narrow window to impress the coaches. He may be joined by Mike Haley, who will also make his debut should he get used as a substitute.
There is some familiarity in the centre pairing, with Chris Farrel and Garry Ringrose, but the back three might be fighting for their plane tickets.
Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour have a chance to show what sort of magic they can create against Italy, who seem to leak tries. It is unlikely that all three will travel so a huge performance is called for.
Luke McGrath may also feel that he has a lot to prove. He has done well for Leinster, but has not had a lot of opportunity to impress at international level. His familiarity with both Sexton and Carberry from playing at club level may play in his favour, but he needs a strong game.
All through the team there are subtle combination changes and coupled with the fact that this is effectively the first game of the season, we should not expect things to go perfectly from the start.
Yes, we should be able to beat the Italians on home soil, but it might take a while to settle down and develop some rhythm.
While the game itself does not have much value – really it does not matter if we win or lose – for individual players, it is a hugely important game. Their own performance and ability to play well with other team mates may decide whether they are on the plane to Japan.
I think it will be entertaining. I think Ireland will win, comfortably. The spread is 26 points in favour of Ireland which on paper seems about right. But it is a risky proposition with these sort of fixtures; can you really rely on the players to maximise the scoring in a friendly warm-up?