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'There are similarities' but Italy know Ireland are a different beast to 2013

The superb form of Benetton in the Pro14 has given Italy renewed confidence.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico

THIS CAPTAIN’S RUN press conference in Rome was slightly different simply for the fact that Sergio Parisse wasn’t sitting at the top table to answer questions.

The 35-year-old, similarly to Scotland’s Finn Russell, was a victim of having to play for his Top 14 club during last weekend’s Six Nations break, with Parisse sustaining a concussion in Stade Français’ defeat to Toulon. 

That head injury means the Azzurri are deprived of their skipper, with experienced hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini stepping into the leadership role in his absence.

Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson look on dejected Ghiraldini was part of the Italy team that beat Ireland in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ghiraldini has tasted to defeat to Ireland all but once. He was in Italy’s number two shirt on that infamous – or famous, depending on your point of view – day in 2013 when Declan Kidney’s injury-depleted visitors suffered a grievous blow.

With Luke Marshall and Luke Fitzgerald picking up injuries, and Brian O’Driscoll yellow-carded, Peter O’Mahony ended up having a stint on the wing as Ireland lost 22-15.

The situation ahead of tomorrow’s clash between Joe Schmidt’s Ireland and the Italians is, of course, very, very different.

Ireland are well-established as one of the best teams in the world, while Italy have lost 19 Six Nations games in a row. 

That 2013 campaign had already seen Italy beating France and being extremely competitive away to England, losing only 18-11, so their form was strong.

But, as Ghiraldini points out, the form of Benetton – who have won 8 of their 15 games in the Pro14 this season – was also strong back then, providing Italy with some confidence ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Ireland.

“I was playing with Treviso at the time of that game in 2013 when Italy beat Ireland and the results the club were having then are pretty similar to what they are doing this year,” said Ghiraldini.

“There are about 13 or 14 players in the squad and it’s also the same now, so there are similarities. It’s important that the players have that confidence to win week in and week out.

Brian O'Driscoll dejected after the match O'Driscoll was yellow-carded in 2013. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Obviously, they hope to translate that to the national team and Ireland have always been able to do that in recent years with Munster and Ulster.

“Obviously, it’s a completely different level though when trying to translate performances from club level to the national team.

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“But 2013 was also completely different because it was the last match of the Six Nations, we had already beaten France and we were very competitive against England away from home.

“It was a different moment for us and also Ireland is a different team now, one of the best in the world despite their loss against England. They have confidence. Our focus is to play our game.”

Ghiraldini said the fact that Ireland have decided to rest captain Rory Best, loosehead prop Cian Healy and second row James Ryan won’t change anything about the challenge facing Italy. 

Indeed, he pointed out that starting hooker Sean Cronin has been in superb form for Leinster and poses his own threat.

While Conor O’Shea’s charges are keen to focus on themselves, Ghiraldini did note the breakdown ferocity that England brought to beat Ireland in round one of this Six Nations.

“England have been amazing at the breakdown, the physicality and they bring everything,” said Ghiraldini.

Leonardo Ghiraldini 34-year-old Ghiraldini captains the Italians tomorrow. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“If you want to win a match at this level, you have to win the battle at every breakdown, in every tackle, in every collision.

“Mentally, England were amazing against Ireland because they put pressure on them at every moment.

“But we have to play our rugby. I think we missed too many opportunities in the first two matches of this Six Nations against Scotland and Wales. We have another opportunity tomorrow to play our best rugby and after we will see the result.

“We know we’re playing one of the best teams in the world. They are really well organised and it seems they change their plan every week. So our goal is to play our rugby.”

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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