After two games, Ireland, after France the best side in the tournament, can be genuinely hopeful of still winning the championship, but they’ll have to rely on another country beating the French, possibly Scotland this weekend or England in Paris on the final Saturday of the competition.
The Irish beat Wales 29-7 in their opening match and then lost, not my much, to France in Paris by 30-24, having outscored the French by three tries to two.
Although few things in sport are certain, you’d put loads of money on Ireland to beat Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday.
Italy, it’s true, are showing signs of being more competitive as we saw in their defeats by France and England, but while their forwards seem to earn quite a lot of ball, they find it hard to score tries from promising opportunities.
Nevertheless, their new coach, Kieran Crowley, alongside the Benetton players in his squad, seem to be generating a harder edge and, frankly, the Six Nations as a competition need Italy to be competing because Test rugby should not be a foregone conclusion.
As with other countries in the Six Nations, Italy’s record against Ireland is poor, only one win since 2000 when Italy joined and that was back in March 2013 in Rome where Ireland lost 22-15 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Ireland have proved to be far too strong in the last two tournaments, putting 50 points past the Italians in 2020 and then 48 in 2021,so Italy’s prospects don’t look good.
Sexton Raring to Go
Two Leinster stars, both backs, James Lowe and Jimmy O’Brien, have been brought in, but it’s too soon to say they will be picked from the start.
Lowe,29, already has nine caps, and scored an outstanding try against Ospreys at the weekend. His ability to score tries is most impressive with 37 in 59 games for his province, and having made such an impression on his return from injury, it’s not a surprise that Lowe has been asked to re-join the Irish squad.
He may not oust wingers Mack Hansen and Andrew Conway, but Lowe’s pace boosts the high skills which make Ireland such a powerful team.
O’Brien has still to be capped, but the 25-year-old, whether he plays in the centre, full back or on the wing, has a distinction of which he can be proud.
During the Heineken Cup match last month against Bath, O’Brien became the first play in Leinster’s history to score four tries in a game in Europe’s main club competition, and the view in Ireland that he won’t have to wait much longer to play his first international.
Meanwhile, Farrell has confirmed that skipper Johnny Sexton, who missed the French game because of a hamstring injury, is fully fit, although it’s still to be confirmed if he will start against Italy.
His position at fly half was taken by Joey Carbery of Munster who performed more than satisfactorily in Paris, but it would be extraordinary, now that Sexton, capped more than 100 times, is fit if he didn’t begin.