Tony Ward: Four weeks, Four games, Four wishes
Published 25/02/2012 | 05:00
Today's lunchtime kick-off marks the start of a demanding four-week period for Ireland in which resources will be tested to the limit.
After the farce in Paris, Declan Kidney's men now find themselves going into as challenging a period of games as they have ever faced.
We have had four matches in quick succession before, but the Six Nations is so intense and competitive that no game can be taken lightly, whereas at World Cups and in Autumn Internationals, there are opportunities to mix and match selection.
Prior to kicking off the Six Nations against the Welsh, Kidney would have planned his campaign meticulously, based on the fixture list presented.
But once Mother Nature -- and French incompetence -- intervened, his ideas were thrown into chaos.
The Paris cancellation upset everybody's plans, not least the travelling Irish support, but it also put a different perspective on the Championship.
It presented Kidney and his players with an uncompromising four-week schedule allowing minimal time for recovery and preparation.
Against that is a campaign that could have gone west had the postponed France game taken place.
Now Ireland are presented with an opportunity on home soil to halt a losing run, restore confidence and gain some momentum.
The Italians will be as dogged and as grizzled as ever. They will show more ambition than in previous years, but when it comes to getting down and dirty, they are still the masters.
The loss to Wales has taken some of the fizz out of the tournament from an Irish perspective because with that late Leigh Halfpenny penalty went Triple Crown hopes and Grand Slam aspirations.
Today we have a chance to get back on the winning track and put ourselves in a much better place for that return trip to Paris.