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Good afternoon everybody and welcome along to our minute-by-minute coverage of today’s Six Nations clash in Rome between Italy and Ireland at the Stadio Olimpico.

Spirits were low after an opening weekend defeat at the hands of Eddie Jones’ England in Dublin — Joe Schmidt relinquishing a proud, unbeaten home record in the Six Nations — and a hard-fought victory in Murrayfield also failed to inspire an overwhelming sense of confidence.

However, following yesterday’s dramatic, pulsating affair between Wales and England in Cardiff, Ireland have fresh optimism in spades heading into today’s clash in the Italian capital. Josh Adams’ late, great try means Ireland’s hopes of retaining the Six Nations have been given a massive boost this weekend.

Schmidt has enjoyed an impressive record against Conor O’Shea’s men and, bar that 2013 hiccup, Ireland have been all but untroubled in this fixture over the course of the last five years. A bonus-point win is tipped by many today, but by no means guaranteed, the Ireland head coach has warned.

Moran and Katie Conlon Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt makes four changes from that gritty victory in Murrayfield two weeks ago, with the Ireland head coach opting against making wholesale changes, but instead fielding yet another strong starting lineup for today’s clash in Rome.

Sean Cronin (making his first Six Nations start), Dave Kilcoyne, Ultan Dillane and Jordi Murphy are all in, with skipper Rory Best, Cian Healy, James Ryan and Jack Conan all given the weekend off ahead of a crunch meeting with France in Dublin in a fortnight’s time.

Aside from that, it’s as you were. It’s an impressive lineup for a fixture which now reclaims a whole lot more significance after yesterday’s drama at the Principality Stadium, with Ireland’s hopes of retaining the Six Nations firmly reignited. Looking back when the winners’ medals are handed out on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, this weekend could prove absolutely crucial.

Stick with us, action gets underway at the Olimpico in just over an hour’s time.

It’s a warm and sunny afternoon in Rome and our man on the ground Murray Kinsella has been soaking up all the pre-match build-up ahead of today’s game.

“Ireland’s players joined the influx of tourists in checking out the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna and some of the other hotspots in the Italian capital yesterday,” he writes. “But Joe Schmidt’s men are really here for business.

“After a stuttering start to their Six Nations, Ireland are ready to click into their most confident gear and find the attacking “flow” that has eluded them so far. 

“Schmidt has made four changes to his starting team but all come in the forward pack and his hope is that an unchanged backline built around the highly-experienced Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray can cut loose at Stadio Olimpico.”

You can read Murray’s preview in full here.

TEAM NEWS: Conor O’Shea has made five changes ahead of today’s showdown. Benetton scrum-half Tito Tebaldi has been passed fit to feature for the first time in this year’s championship, so he’ll start at half-back alongside clubmate Tommaso Allan.

The four other changes are in the pack, from which captain Sergio Parisse will be absent after picking up a concussion while on duty with Stade Francais last weekend.

Flanker Sebastian Negri has also been ruled out due to illness, so Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti are drafted into the back row, with Braam Steyn moving across to take Parisse’s number eight shirt.

Federico Ruzza comes into the second row at the expense of David Sisi, while Andrea Lovotti has recovered from the flu to start at loosehead prop instead of Nicola Quaglio.

Toulouse hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini has been handed the skipper’s armband.

Italy:

15. Jayden Hayward
14. Edoardo Padovani
13. Michele Campagnaro
12. Luca Morisi
11. Angelo Esposito
10. Tommaso Allan
9. Tito Tebaldi

1. Andrea Lovotti
2. Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain)
3. Simone Ferrari
4. Federico Ruzza
5. Dean Budd
6. Jimmy Tuivaiti
7. Maxime Mbandà
8. Braam Steyn

Replacements:

16. Luca Bigi
17. Cherif Traoré
18. Tiziano Pasquali
19. David Sisi
20. Alessandro Zanni
21. Guglielmo Palazzani
22. Ian McKinley
23. Tommaso Castello

TEAM NEWS: Joe Schmidt makes four changes from the side which saw off Scotland in Murrayfield. Sean Cronin will make his first Six Nations start, while Peter O’Mahony leads the team with Rory Best rested.

Dave Kilcoyne gets an opportunity at loosehead prop, while Ultan Dillane comes into the second row and Ulster’s Jordi Murphy starts at number eight.

Schmidt has named an unchanged backline of Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.

Jordi Murphy gets a starting opportunity in the number eight short, while Ultan Dillane comes into the second row to partner Connacht team-mate Quinn Roux — Cronin and Kilcoyne make up the front row along with the retained Tadhg Furlong.

The experienced Sean O’Brien and O’Mahony continue in the back row alongside Murphy. With Best and loosehead Cian Healy rested and Andrew Porter released to Leinster, Niall Scannell, Jack McGrath and John Ryan are set for their first appearances of this year’s championship off the bench.

Ireland:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Chris Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Quinn Roux
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jordi Murphy

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Jack McGrath
18. John Ryan
19. Iain Henderson
20. Josh van der Flier
21. John Cooney
22. Jack Carty
23. Andrew Conway

It’s a big day for Peter O’Mahony, as the Munster flanker prepares to captain his country for the seventh time in the absence of Rory Best.

The Cork native did skipper the Lions into the first Test against New Zealand back in 2017, but speaking this week he said that leading Ireland out has a unique and special feeling to it.

“It’s not about personal milestones,” O’Mahony said. “But it’s certainly special for me to be asked to lead the lads out tomorrow.

Leonardo Ghiraldini, Peter O'Mahony and Glen Jackson with Simone Rugiati at the coin toss Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It doesn’t change my week or what I do to be honest. It’s nice to be asked. There’s an incredible amount of history gone with Irish captains.”

He added, looking ahead to today’s game: “We’ll certainly be looking to improve from the last couple of games we’ve been out and be a bit more cohesive, certainly with the combinations that we’ve picked.”

“We want to flow, we certainly want to play rugby and have a little bit more cohesion and be a bit more patient at times.

“We’ve worked hard on our attack over the last couple of weeks and we hope it’s going to come to fruition.”

Right, half an hour to go before we get underway, how do you see today’s game going? Let us know below.


Poll Results:

Ireland win (428)
Italy win (43)
Draw (9)



It’s also a massive occasion for Sean Cronin in Rome this afternoon, as he prepares to make his first ever Six Nations start in what will, incredibly, be the Limerick man’s 68th cap in the green shirt.

Cronin is the top try scorer in the Champions Cup so far this season, with his six in five appearances the evidence of some really brilliant form so far this year in the front row for Leinster.

“Look, I would have hoped to get a bit more game-time off the bench (against Scotland),” Cronin said after Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium last week.

Sean Cronin Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“All I can do is contribute as best I can. Be ready to go. I came on against England and contributed pretty well. So I just have to bide my time.

“It’s a competitive position with Rory there, Niall Scannell. So any opportunity I get I want to do my best when I get on. My club form, I think I’ve brought it in here.”

With a standout performance today, Cronin will be hoping to give Joe Schmidt a selection headache over whether to pick Rory Best or the explosive 32-year-old looking ahead to the World Cup in seven months’ time.

Oh yeah, just in case you missed it, the Irish team bus was treated to an, eh, interesting escort by Italian police throughout Rome yesterday. Just hilarious.

Some pre-game reading material to sink your teeth into before we get underway:

Almost time as both teams have arrive out onto the pitch at a sunny Stadio Olimpico as we prepare for the national anthems.

Flag 1Mins

KICK OFF! Tommaso Allan gets us underway in Rome and there’s an early spill from Sean O’Brien, but no major damage done at the back.

2Mins

2 mins – Bundee Aki combines with Peter O’Mahony in the maul to steal possession away from Braam Steyn very easily as Ireland get up and running with a turnover. The ball spills away for an Italian lineout as possession is swayed out wide by the left wing.

4Mins

4 mins – A really sloppy pass from Sean O’Brien spills away from Conor Murray following Sean Cronin’s opening lineout for Ireland at the other end.

6Mins

6 mins – Penalty for Ireland as Schmidt’s men begin to make up some territory and push Italy further back in the scrum. Another lineout for Sean Cronin to settle into the game follows.

7Mins

7 mins – Another penalty conceded by Conor O’Shea’s men, this time their maul collapses and they pay the price. Ireland maintaining early pressure.

10Mins

10 mins – Five penalties conceded by Italy inside the opening ten minutes here — this time Ireland opt for the advantage. Tadhg Furlong drives forward well as Conor Murray screams for possession behind him.

Flag 11Mins

11 mins — TRY! Italy 0-7 Ireland (Quinn Roux)

Brilliant start for Ireland! Phase after phase builds and builds as Quinn Roux bundles over the line following some patient play by the goalpost. Sexton kicks the conversion and the visitors lead by seven.

15Mins

14 mins – It’s the perfect start for Ireland. Chris Farrell ran an excellent line in the buildup to Roux’s try following a precise pass from Conor Murray to set him on his way. The ruck was set up, and Roux heaved himself over before grounding.

16Mins

16 mins – Italy narrowly evade danger following a sublime kick and follow from Keith Earls. The Munster man dances in-between bodies before kicking through for Andrew Conway after some neat acceleration. Conway is inches away from racing free, but Simone Ferrari recovers to take possession.

18Mins

18 mins – Penalty conceded by Ireland and it’s a decent distance for Tommaso Allan to get his side up and running on the scoreboard. His kick falls narrowly short of the posts, however. A real lack of accuracy and a missed opportunity. 

19Mins

19 mins – Excellent lines from Italy as Tito Tebaldi breaks free with a powerful driving run, but he is held up short by Murray. The referee brings it back for a penalty, which Allan will kick.

20Mins

20 mins — Penalty! Italy 3-7 Ireland (Allan)

Allan makes amends for his earlier miss and kicks confidently between the posts to get his side on the scoreboard.

Flag 22Mins

21 mins — TRY! Italy 3-12 Ireland (Jacob Stockdale)

It’s shocking from Italy in defence as Ireland respond perfectly to Allan’s penalty. Jacob Stockdale snatches possession down the left wing and takes complete advantage of a gaping hole of space to sprint free and touch down. It’s such a soft try to concede for the hosts after some awful handling from Michele Campagnaro. Sexton fails to kick the conversion, however.

23Mins

23 mins – A poor restart from Sexton, which Stockdale can’t do much with. Ireland have enjoyed 58% possession so far and have very much been on control.

25Mins

25 mins – Bundee Aki will not be returning to play for Ireland after failing a HIA and Joe Schmidt is forced into an early change.

27Mins

27 mins — Penalty! Italy 6-12 Ireland (Tommaso Allan)

Offside is called and Allan kicks the resulting penalty to make it 6-12 as the half-hour mark approaches. A sweet kick which sails high and between the posts.

29Mins

29 mins – A low kick from Sexton is met by the high leap of Jacob Stockdale from the restart. Tito Tebaldi concedes a penalty after going over the ball. A good bit more energy about Ireland’s attacks now.

31Mins

31 mins – Italy surge forward via Tuivaiti who offers a pinpoint kick which completely evades the reach of Rob Kearney. The pair run into each other, which the home crowd seemingly aren’t happy about, booing the Ireland fullback.

33Mins

33 mins — TRY! Italy 11-12 Ireland (Edoardo Padovani)

What a try! Jayden Hayward bursts forward with serious power and pace out of absolutely no-where. Some excellent carries after Ireland lost the lineout from Cronin, Earls does manage to bring Hayward down but Allan’s pass finds Edoardo Padovani completely on his own to sprint over and touch down in the corner. Allan misses the conversion, but now it’s 11-12 to the visitors. Very impressive move.

36Mins

36 mins – Italy have really managed to capitalise on some poor errors from Ireland, the latest of which was that poorly contested lineout which was punished by Hayward. O’Shea’s men have a renewed sense of confidence as the crowd find their voice in Rome.

Flag

38 mins — TRY! Italy 16-12 Ireland (Edoardo Padovani)

Incredible scenes! Rob Kearney can’t get a grip on a pinpoint kick from Tebaldi. An overlap follows with Maxime Mbanda, and he manages to find Edoardo Padovani out wide on the left wing in oceans of space. He surges through Chris Farrell and manages to ground the ball with precision. Allan misses the conversion again, but Italy still lead. Wow!

40Mins

39 mins – All of a sudden this game has been turned on its head. Sexton gets us back underway but Tuivaiti catches before Italy deem they’ve seen enough and put the ball out of play to mark half-time.

Wow, what a remarkable half. Ireland, perhaps, have underestimated this Italian challenge here. It’s been a poor, sloppy half from Joe Schmidt’s men with unforced errors all of the place — defence lacking aggression, line speed is slow, turnovers, lineouts consistently lost, unnecessary offsides. Tries from Quinn Roux and Jacob Stockdale made it the perfect start, but from there the visitors to Rome have taken their eyes off the ball in a major way. More action to come shortly!

41Mins

KICK OFF! We’re back underway in Rome for a massive, massive second half. Sexton with an immediate error, with his kick not travelling the required distance and there’s a scrum on halfway.

42Mins

42 mins – Joe Schmidt will be hoping that poor kick-off from Sexton is not a sign of things to come, but there’s another error as Rob Kearney is penalised for a handling error. This is very worrying for Ireland, it has to be said. Kearney’s face reads nothing but frustration at the moment.

44Mins

44 mins – The referee resets the resulting scrum as Mbanda goes off for Italy to be replaced by Alessandro Zanni in the back row. He’s put in a serious shift at number 8 this afternoon, you have to admit.

47Mins

47 mins – Much better from Ireland as Peter O’Mahony wins a turnover, his second of the game so far. He hasn’t been at his best in the breakdown so far today, but he was single-minded there and the Munster flanker got what he came for. Textbook stuff.

48Mins

48 mins – Lovely, lovely offload from Conor Murray finds Tadhg Furlong who exploits the space and bursts through with his legs powering with intent. Leonardo Ghiraldini puts a hand in and Ireland have a penalty.

50 mins – Penalty for Ireland as the referee calls offside. It’s kicked into touch and gives Scannell — who has replaced Sean Cronin at hooker — the chance to have his first lineout off the bench.

Flag 51Mins

51 mins — TRY! Italy 16-19 Ireland (Keith Earls)

Back on top! Keith Earls darts free around the challenge of Tito Tebaldi and grounds to put Ireland back ahead. Murray makes no mistake and kicks the conversion. Brilliant feet from the Limerick man to get over the line, great agility and movement.

55Mins

55 mins – Space opens up for Angelo Esposito but Dave Kilcoyne manages to slow him down and bring the wing down to the ground. Italy surging forward with menace with phase after phase. They don’t seemed cowed by Earls’ try right now.

57Mins

57 mins – Scrum deep inside Ireland’s 22 but the visitors get the penalty. Captain Leonardo Ghiraldini is not happy as Braam Steyn is the man penalised. Ireland hang on.

58 mins – Dave Kilcoyne drives forward after some neat offloads in succession from Chris Farrell and Conor Murray. Good territory, but it’s very slow by Ireland and more than manageable for the hosts, who are holding their line.

59Mins

59 mins – Quinn Roux makes way for Iain Henderson off the bench for Ireland in the second row. Sean O’Brien is also brought off, replaced by Josh van der Flier.

59Mins

59 mins – S0me tired bodies out there right now. Ultane Dillane tries to break away into space near halfway, but the Connacht lock is hauled down by the robust challenge of David Sisi.

62 mins – Almost! Keith Earls snaps away suddenly but the Munster wing is hunted down brilliantly at the last by the combined efforts of Padovani and Hayward. Earls tries to offload to Stockdale who is up in support, but the ball is played just behind as the attack breaks down. Electric stuff from Earls yet again.

64 mins – Two more switches for Ireland as John Ryan and Jack McGrath come on to replace Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong for the final 15 minutes.

67 mins – Italy go again with a free followed by a scrum, which fails. Sexton earns a penalty for Ireland and he successfully kicks into touch. Chance for a late try to get the bonus-point here.

Flag

69 mins — TRY! Italy 16-26 Ireland (Conor Murray)

And there it is! Ireland get the bonus-point try they came for. Conor Murray bursts over following a driving maul deep inside the Italian 22. Brilliant support from O’Mahony to help him over. Murray kicks the conversion and Ireland take a ten point lead.

70 mins – The Italian supporters fall quiet inside the Stadio Olimpico as Ireland slip further and further ahead. Schmidt’s men have managed to turn around what was a really poor and disappointing opening half with a much-improved display after the interval.

71 mins – Another switch for Ireland as John Cooney comes on for some late minutes, replacing Conor Murray off the bench for the final stretch here.

74Mins

74 mins – Great kick from Allan earns an Italian lineout after Campagnaro was fouled via a high tackle. O’Shea’s side applying late pressure as Ghiraldini drives forward into a maul on halfway as his side inch forward.

75 mins – Both sets of supporters applaud as Ian McKinley enters off the bench to face Ireland for the very first time. He replaces Tommaso Allan.

76 mins – Scrum in a promising position for the hosts, but the referee blows up and it’s a 13th penalty conceded, this time Dean Budd is hauled up for coming in at the side.

78Mins

78 mins – Ireland make progress with 13 phases steadily built up. Josh van der Flier is penalised for a knock-on, and the break in play gives Jack Carty the chance to come on and make his Six Nations debut. What a moment for the 26-year-old. He is the fourth Connacht man to feature today.

79 mins – It’s been a frustrating afternoon for Ireland and a lot of questions do need to be answered, but there may be some solace taken in the fact that Schmidt’s side have kept Italy scoreless in this second half.

79 mins – Eight phases built up as Carty takes the chance to try and break away before being hauled to the floor. Less than a minute on the clock to go as Ireland count down to the bonus-point win they came for.

82 mins – Late intrigue as Ireland concede a final penalty for coming in at the side. Conor O’Shea has made his way down pitchside and he watches on as Alessandro Zanni’s kick comes up short. Jacob Stockdale breaks away on the counter looking for a second try, but he is clawed down and there’s a handling error. That’s it.

There we have it. It was far from a convincing performance, but Ireland will leave Rome with the bonus-point they came in search of this weekend. Hopes of retaining the Six Nations have been given a big boost with today’s win combined with England’s defeat at the hands of Wales on Saturday.

But after three rounds there are still some big questions to be answered by Joe Schmidt. Thanks a million for joining us this afternoon — you can read Murray Kinsella’s report from the Stadio Olimpico here, with plenty more reaction to come as well over the coming hours. Until next time, goodbye!

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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