Two changes from the starting side which went down 21-10 to England at Twickenham a fortnight ago although it is the players left out of Joe Schmidt’s squad who have caused the media stir.
Simon Zebo replaces the injured Rob Kearney at full-back while Jared Payne returns at outside-centre following a hamstring problem. Payne’s inclusion comes at the expense of Ulster team-mate Stuart McCloskey, who earned his debut against Twickenham at inside-centre, Schmidt resisting calls to start Payne at 15 and keep faith with a Robbie Henshaw-McCloskey midfield. Instead, Henshaw moves back to inside-centre and McCloskey is out of the matchday squad.
The other changes come on the bench where Sean Cronin replaces Richardt Strauss as cover for hooker and captain Rory Best and could win his 50th cap. Scrum-half Kieran Marmion comes in for the injured Eoin Reddan while Fergus McFadden replaces the promoted Zebo as outside backs cover. There was also a late change at loosehead prop replacement where Cian Healy was forced off the bench by a hamstring strain, the uncapped Connacht front rower Finlay Bealham leapfrogging James Cronin to claim the vacancy.
After a systems malfunction against England, the onus will be on Ireland second-rows Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan to put their house in order against Italy this afternoon. At Twickenham, the lineout let Ireland down badly in dangerous attacking positions inside the English 22, with three throws stolen to rob the visitors of a vital platform.
Have Ireland done enough work on the training ground this week to bring back the attacking spark and consistency of performance over 80 minutes that has so far left them without a victory in this year’s RBS 6 Nations? The players believe they have and that today will be the day when everything finally clicks into place. An anxious home crowd will hope they are right.
While Joe Schmidt defends himself against accusations of overly conservative selections, Italy’s Jacques Brunel appears to be throwing caution to the wind in handing fly-half Edoardo Padovani a first Test start today.
Zebre’s Padovani leapfrogs Kelly Haimona to replace injured Carlo Canna and make his third Test appearance. It will be alongside clubmate Guglielmo Palazzini, who covers for injured first-choice scrum-half Edoardo Gori, and though the half-backs have just 20 caps between them Brunel is hoping their club partnership can pay dividends for Italy.
Captain Sergio Parisse will equal Martin Castrogiovanni’s record of 118 Test caps as Italy seek a first victory of the campaign, although he will lead a pack missing Leicester hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini (shoulder), with Treviso’s Davide Giazzon replacing him.
Lock Quintin Geldenhuys has returned to fitness but only makes the bench as Brunel sticks with George Biagi in the second row alongside Marco Fuser.
Michele Campagnaro starts at outside centre and the Exeter Chiefs man can cause defences plenty of problems if he is allowed the space to to run at the opposition line. He’s pacy, strong and powerful in the carry, able to bust tackles and get his team over the gainline to release his outside backs. Campagnaro’s six clean breaks lead this season’s RBS 6 Nations, his team mates managing only nine between them.
If Ireland loosehead Jack McGrath can get after Italian tighthead Lorenzo Cittadini the way Scotland’s Alasdair Dickinson did two weeks ago then the Azzurri pack is in for another long afternoon in Dublin. At Stadio Olimpico against the Scots, the Italians conceded seven scrum penalties and McGrath already has Cittadini’s number having successfully dealt with him when Leinster played Wasps in the Champions Cup earlier this season.