Wednesday 22 February 2017

'They were unbelievably illegal at ruck time' - Luke Fitzgerald on the crucial area that can get Ireland back on track in Rome

Published 07/02/2017 | 09:49

12 March 2016; Keith Earls, Ireland, in action against Italy. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v Italy. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
12 March 2016; Keith Earls, Ireland, in action against Italy. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v Italy. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Luke Fitzgerald thinks the breakdown battle will be key as Ireland look to kickstart their Six Nations campaign in Rome on Saturday.

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Ireland's Grand Slam hopes were dashed at Murrayfield last weekend after a horrid opening 30 minutes saw Scotland race into a commanding 16-point lead. Joe Schmidt's side fought back well in the second half but ultimately lost out 27-22.

Ireland haven't recovered from an opening day defeat to win the championship since 1974, but Fitzgerald is confident that Schmidt can exploit some Italian weaknesses this weekend and secure the team's first win of the campaign.

Speaking during yesterday's Facebook Live episode of The Left Wing, Fitzgerald pointed to Italy's breakdown indiscipline as an area that could give Ireland a real foothold in the game, while also expecting Schmidt's men to expose some space in behind their back three.

Ireland's breakdown discipline has been a cornerstone of the team's rise under Schmidt, and Fitzgerald thinks the penalty count could be in the team's favour once again given Italy's recent struggles in that area.

"I know Conor O'Shea was talking about the penalties but I thought they were unbelievably illegal at ruck time," Fitzgerald said of Italy's opening loss to Wales.

"I think they weren't reffed hard enough in the first half to be honest. Wales showed that if you keep width, I'm not too sure about their backfield cover. Wales got a little unlucky with a couple of things, a few cross-field kicks, and they are actually specialities of Joe's. Manipulating teams and opening them up for a bit of kick space."

Ireland remain second favourites for the championship behind England despite the loss to Scotland, although they have drifted out to 6/1 in the betting, with Eddie Jones' side now in to 8/15.

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