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Ireland still have a championship to play for: Talking points ahead of Sunday's Six Nations game

Ciaran Kennedy looks ahead to the arrival of Italy in Dublin, with tips and the latest William Hill odds.

DESPITE DEFEAT TO France a fortnight ago, Ireland’s chances of winning the Six Nations championship are still alive heading into this weekend’s fixtures. 

Next up for Andy Farrell’s team is a meeting with Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, Ciaran Kennedy brings you his key talking points with the latest prices from William Hill…

One-way traffic

james-lowe-makes-a-break Ireland's James Lowe (centre) facing Italy last year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Regardless of their form or fitness, this is a game Ireland are expected to win comfortably every year.

You have to go back to March 2013 for the last time Italy came out on top in this fixture, the Azzurri winning 22-15 in Rome nine years ago. Ireland’s average winning margin over the most recent five meetings between the sides is just over 29 points.

With Italy struggling again – losing 37-10 in France before a 33-0 defeat to England in Rome – expect Ireland to try run up another big score this weekend. Andy Farrell’s side are building nicely, defeat in France last time out still bringing plenty of positives for a team who are clearly heading in the right direction.

With key players returning from injury and others looking to take their chance to impress in a competitive squad, there will be plenty of individuals out to catch the eye in a game where Ireland are likely to boss possession and territory, and should be reasonably fresh following last weekend’s fixture break.

It could well be another uncomfortable afternoon for the Italians in Dublin.

William Hill odds: Ireland to win by 26-30 points @ 7/1

All to play for

andy-farrell-talks-with-the-team-during-the-captains-run Andy Farrell speaking to his players. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The round two defeat in Paris will have represented a disappointing blow for an Ireland team who went into the game on a nine-match winning run. However, there was plenty to please Andy Farrell in the performance.

Having shipped an early try, his team responded well and managed to stay in the fight right to the end of what was a gripping contest against a hugely physical French side.

It was interesting to hear Farrell stress that the experience will ‘stand for nothing’ if his players don’t learn from and build on that Paris outing.

The Grand Slam may be out of their hands, but there could well be a championship still to play for, so it’s important Ireland get back into their rhythm ahead of the round four trip to England and closing fixture against Scotland in Dublin.

France still have to travel to Murrayfield and Cardiff before they welcome England to the Stade de France. Les Bleus rightly remain favourites to go on and win the competition, but there are no guarantees they will win all of their remaining fixtures.

Should they slip up, Ireland will come right back into the mix, and currently look in the best shape across the chasing pack.

William Hill odds: Ireland to win the Six Nations @ 7/2

Mack the knife

mack-hansen-chases-the-ball-down-before-going-on-to-score-their-first-try Mack Hansen plucks the ball out of the sky before scoring his try against the French. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

Andy Farrell faces some interesting selection calls this week, with James Lowe back in the mix and Johnny Sexton surely keen to get some minutes under his belt having missed the France game.

At the time of writing, Farrell has yet to name his team to play Italy, but the game often represents a good opportunity for Ireland’s backline to boost their stats, given it tends to be their highest-scoring fixture in the tournament.

And whether he starts or comes in off the bench, Mack Hansen will sense an opportunity to add to his early Ireland tally following his excellent try against the run of play in France. The livewire Connacht winger has made a superb start to his Test career, and already looks comfortable within the Ireland system.

He’ll face a battle to keep his place given the quality of options available to Farrell, but at the moment, the 23-year-old’s form is hard to ignore.

William Hill odds: Mack Hansen to finish as Six Nations top try-scorer @ 8/1  

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org 

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