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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

Italy can take a step up but Ireland are still a cut above

Wet conditions could hamper Schmidt's men again

Jonathan Sexton kicks Ireland's winning drop goal against France
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Round two
ITV & TV3, 2.15pm Saturday

Ireland have put 63 points and 58 points on Italy in their last two meetings, scoring nine tries each time, and after a narrow tryless win in France last week the pressure is on them to rack up a big score against the Azzurri.

Italy have been whipping boys, conceding more than 200 points in each of the last two campaigns, and although there were signs that things are on the up under Conor O'Shea, there is clearly still a huge gulf.

O'Shea, in his second year in overall charge of Italian rugby, has brought in younger faces, worked hard on fitness and there has been a clear impact on the performances of Italy's two Pro14 clubs.

But they started last weekend's opening Six Nations match against England as 21-point underdogs and lost by 31, shipping seven tries, three of them in the last 15 minutes.

Graham Woods's England v Wales preview

There was more purpose about their performance, their two tries were well worked, and they certainly didn't fall apart in defence late on as they so often did last year.

Ireland were the only nation not to score a try in their opening match, raising criticism of coach Joe Schmidt and his perceived conservative tactics.

But they were faced with difficult, wet conditions in Paris and came up against a France side who looked pretty aimless in attack but defended for their lives. Les Bleus made 253 tackles - England were next best with 153 - and didn't allow the Irish a single clean break. It's unlikely Ireland will face anything like that kind of resistance against the Azzurri.

To single out Ireland as a team who struggle to score tries is unfair - they recorded tallies of 15 and 14 in the last two tournaments and ran in ten in their three autumn Tests. But they are above all a pragmatic side and the way they dug out a winning drop goal at the Stade de France underlines that.

Ireland will want to run up another big score and claim a bonus point but they may not be able to cut loose with abandon. Rain is forecast and Italy will take something from their defeat to England - a mixture of confidence from a more competitive performance despite the result, and of determination to put right the faults that crept in. A winning margin in the 20s looks a decent wager.

Ireland to win by 21 to 30 points
1pt 7-2 Betfair

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Ireland were the only nation not to score a try in their opening match, raising criticism of coach Joe Schmidt and his perceived conservative tactics
E.W. Terms
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