If we look at the last game between the two teams, Italy dominated two of the set-pieces: the scrum and the lineout.
Mallett knew from late January that both Jamie Heaslip [ankle] and Stephen Ferris [knee cartilage] would not be featuring for Ireland against Italy in the teams’ first game of the 2011 Six Nations, and also that Dennis Leamy would almost certainly start … that gave Ireland three stumps in the backrow, none of Wallace, O’Brien or Leamy exceeding 188cm [6’2″].
Added to that, Paul O’Connell had suffered a lengthy absence due to his hip injury/infection, an absence that was compounded by the ban he received for his ridiculous red card against the Ospreys in December. O’Connell had played just two full games for Munster in ten months going into the Italian match … he was seriously undercooked.
Italy proceeded to victimise us at the lineout with an exceptionally tall backrow of Parisse and Josh Sole at 196cm [6’5″] and Sandro Zanni at 193cm [6’4″] – Zanni and Parisse took eight lineouts, while our backrow took none.
With Ferris and Heaslip in the starting lineup we have two backrow forwards who are very capable lineout operators and will very likely negate that advantage. A fully fit O’Connell is amongst the very best lineout operators in the world, and the Italians had significant struggles against the American lineout. Kudos go to Leinster old boy Gavin Hickey, the Eagles’ lineout coach, on that count.
The Mole would expect Italy to start Mauro Bergamasco at openside, who, for all his experience and excellence around the park, provides nothing like the lineout threat of Josh Sole.
Secondly, while the Italians have a serious corps of scrummagers [Lo Cicero, Perugini, Ongaro, Ghiraldini and Castrogiovanni] in the front row, they didn’t get any change out of an Australian scrum that we clearly had the upper hand on in Auckland. The scrums during the Six Nations encounter between the teams has to be put in the context of it being Mike Ross’ international debut, and that it was the first time our front five had ever played together in a competitive match.
We have since played France three times and England twice, whom I’d rank as being on a par with the Italian scrum. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs against them, but nothing like the hammering we took from Italy back in February.
As impressive as Italy’s scrum looked today against the USA, we also had the Yanks going backwards at a rate of knots with Tom Court in harness, who has never been renowned as a devastating scrummager. If we can get parity against the Italian scrum – which I think we will – we have far more than them in other parts of the pitch.
Good analysis mole, I remember that game and can recall a lot of lineouts going to 7 at the tail. We are well placed to deny and spoil this time. In the same game we tried to run o’brien straight at their midfield a lot. To be frank they loved it. I presume sob will play though I could argue Jenning’s case for this particular game. If so we will need to use him in a bit more of an imaginative way.
Our attacking lineout is purring at the moment with best in great fettle and lots of movement, set plays and different points of attack. We can smash them here and have fun. Into the bargain Tuesday is a bad day to be saying youve got a better front row. It’ll be interesting who is saying that come Sunday. Kidney could do well to ask the ref (via the meeja) to make sure Castro scrums legally.
My precog thoughts are that this is a game where Irish fans can finally put behind them the we are only good underdogs theory. I know the provinces and Ireland have proven their stuff before but this one will get the country’s attention. I expect a lot of tv people to be saying “why can t such and such deliver under pressure like the way the Irish rugby handled the weight of expectation in new Zealand.”