Italians under orders to snuff out O’Driscoll-D’Arcy axis

ANDREA MASI and Gonzalo Canale have been issued with special orders from Italian coach John Kirwan to keep Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy under wraps tomorrow.

Masi and Canale have been given the onerous task of snuffing out the Irish midfield threat and Kirwan believes the outcome of this particular battle will have a big bearing on the result in Rome.

Kirwan lauded the Irish pairing as "brilliant individuals and an awesome unit", adding: "That area is just one of the big issues facing us, but one of the most important. Brian O'Driscoll has been in world-class form over a number of seasons and D'Arcy was magnificent last season.

"It remains to be seen whether he can reproduce that type of form again this year but judging from his recent form it appears he is capable of it.

"I won't be heaping pressure on my centres. That would be unfair, but they are both aware that they will have to be very vigilant in defence. O'Driscoll and D'Arcy are slippery customers, give them an inch and they will take the proverbial mile."

But if Kirwan sees that duel as an issue, he is placing much emphasis too on the forward battle, particularly the lineout. "Ireland have a formidable lineout with Malcolm O'Kelly, Paul O'Connell and Simon Easterby all capable of winning clean and regular possession. We will have to be pro-active in that area and go out to attack them. It is an area where we have had some problems in the past so we have done a lot of work this week to ensure we can compete against them."

Kirwan and his players have spent hours pouring over videos of Ireland's recent games but have also taken the opportunity to watch Leinster's Heineken Cup games against Treviso.

"There are a number of players from these teams in action and it has given me an opportunity to look at certain battle zones and see where our players can improve."

Italy have won just 10 of his 27 games in charge since 2002 and only three Six Nations matches since 2000, but Kirwan is convinced they can turn things around.

"Right from the start, my mission has been to build up this national squad into a 30-player unit where there would be real competition for places. I haven't quite reached that goal yet but we are getting there. The squad is much stronger and more experienced now than it was 18 months ago."

With that thought in mind, Kirwan was brave enough to suggest Italy might well win two games this year.

"I think this team is capable of producing more than one good result, more than one shock.

"Tomorrow we go into the match determined to win not just to compete, not just to put in what some might term a decent performance against a very good side.

"We have seen how Ireland have come on in leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, seen how they no longer just compete against the big names but also win. We have set ourselves similar goals, it might take a little longer but I hope it will happen eventually."

With slightly different goals Ireland believing they are Grand Slam contenders and Italy hoping to take a couple of scalps Kirwan sees this as a fascinating Six Nations.

He believes Ireland are well capable of finally going all the way even though he hopes they fall at the first hurdle, but warns Eddie O'Sullivan's men of the other pitfalls facing them.

"It's correct that Ireland should be touted as strong contenders but I worry that England have been so quiet this last month or so. That's not usually their form and no matter what, they must be treated very seriously."

One Italian at least knows what it takes to beat the Irish. Carlo

Checchinato finally hung up his

playing boots last year but, as part of Italy coach John Kirwan's team, will bring his know-how to the Stadio Flaminio on Sunday.

Checchinato, who scored what for a forward is an amazing tally of 21 tries in his 83 appearances for Italy, was a member of the Azzurri team that beat Ireland in December 1997 in Bologna.

That win, one of three against the Irish during the 1990s, helped persuade the Five Nations to grant Italy membership of their club.

However, Checchinato is determined not to look back at past glories and instead wants the new generation of Azzurri to set a new milestone as they consolidate their place at European rugby's top table.

"It was a sweet victory," said Checchinato. "But we have never beaten the Irish in an RBS 6 Nations match.

"A win would be very prestigious for us and would create a sensation in international rugby," he said.

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