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Morgan Treacy/INPHO Ireland captain Paul O'Connell says Italy's scrum will 'probably be the biggest test in the championship for us now'.
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David Wallace: Question not if Ireland will beat Italy but by how much
The former Munster and Ireland flanker believes Joe Schmidt will look to his forwards and set-pieces again to win the day.

GOING INTO THIS weekend’s games and four sides still have realistic hopes of winning the Six Nations. Wales are well capable of doing a job against England and though France looking nothing like a threatening team at present, they should beast Scotland at Murrayfield to give themselves a chance going into their last match.

That, of course, will be against an Ireland side that should have too much firepower for Italy tomorrow. The points difference could yet decide the destiny of the championship. Ireland have to go to Stade de France, which has not been a fantastic hunting ground in recent years. Or decades.

The Irish backline has been somewhat muted so far. They were not really needed in the Scotland game as the rolling maul dominated. They readied themselves for poor playing conditions against Wales but stuck to the game-plan under clear skies and the backs, apart from great kick chases, were not really needed. Every blade of grass was fought for at Twickenham and they were drawn into that battle.

It would be good to see the backs allowed off the leash against the Italians but I can see Ireland going for that rolling maul early again. If they can work that well and get seven or 10 points up in the opening stages, Italy’s indiscipline may begin to tell and Ireland can keep the scoreboard ticking over. If that happens, it may open play up for the backline to play with that joie de vivre.

The debate about Simon Zebo’s inclusion hasn’t boiled over and that is due to the solid performances of the guys in there at present. We have Tommy Bowe and Zebo pushing hard, with Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald out injured. There’s Craig Gilroy up at Ulster too — a guy that featured heavily in last year’s Six Nations and is now down the pecking order. Zebo has that x-factor and an ability to rise above the structured game. Schmidt, however, is backing his guys. Hopefully we will see the pay off this weekend.

The loss of Sergio Parisse is massive for Italy. Alessandro Zanni too. Robert Barbieri is having a decent season and Josh Furno, who played lock and is now at blindside, was one of Italy’s best players against Scotland. They have exciting backline players like Michel Campagnaro and Leonardo Sarto and some grizzled veterans up from. Marco Bortolami takes over as captain and, with over 100 caps to his name, has been around the block and back.

It is great to see Iain Henderson getting a start. He is a raw, powerful player and is developing at a rapid rate. He’s deceptive as he looks a lot like a second row — a position he has featured in a lot for Ulster this season — but has the athleticism and pace to line up in a back row. He always seems to make ground with his carries and reminds me of a young Stephen Ferris.

Jamie Heaslip has been excellent in this championship and the Irish back row has probably been the strongest unit. Chris Henry has been destructive in the tackle and rucking area and has worked well in tandem with Peter O’Mahony. Joe Schmidt will have his players well drilled and I feel it will not be a case of winning but by how much.

Ruan Pienaar tries to go past Brian O'Driscoll and David Wallace Billy Stickland / INPHO O'Driscoll and Wallace tackle Ruan Pienaar in 2010. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Last, but not for the last time, we move to Brian O’Driscoll. He’s got a couple of big games ahead of him yet before he can call himself retired. It is fitting that a player of his status and stature can go out on his terms.

As a player, he was always a pleasure to play with. He was, and is, talismanic. You were always more comfortable when he was in your team. We felt we could beat anyone when he was there. The way that he would pull something out of the bag, and his mental strength, almost impressed me more than his physical skills.

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Getting the caps record is an added bonus but Brian will want to go out on Saturday and get the win that will bring him back to Paris, the place where he came to the world’s attention with that hat-trick in 2000.


@wa22y played 197 times for Munster, won 72 Test caps with Ireland and appeared in three Tests with The British and Irish Lions. He runs @MrSimmsCrescent Olde Sweet Shoppe at the Crescent Shopping Centre.

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