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Heads to the grindstone

The buzz words 'momentum', 'building' and 'progress' are being built into the psyche of the Irish players as a recognition of where they are and what they are aiming for at the World Cup in 2011.

But, in many ways, they are back to square one in the Six Nations. If you have to work your way into the tournament, Italy in Croke Park is just about the best place to start.

The Italians bring a shuddering ferocity to the forward exchanges. They will shake the cobwebs out of the Irish to have them spot on for France in Paris, without having the all-round threat to sneak their first win over Ireland in the Six Nations.

The fact that Sergio Parisse is out of the equation damages their overall ambition in the competition. Some say he is the best No8 in the world. Jamie Heaslip mightn't agree with that opinion.

Overall, Ireland will surely look for a happy balance between the grunt of Munster and panache of Leinster. This would be more easily managed with Jonathan Sexton at fly-half. However, Ronan O'Gara is too good a player to play the percentages all afternoon.

The rejuvenated Gordon D'Arcy and rehabilitated Andrew Trimble will want to get their hands on the ball early and often.

Ireland have to start to make better use of the various threats they have across the three-quarter line.



EXTENSIVELY

All four started out as or have played extensively in the centre.

While they may not have the blinding speed of the faster international wings, their repertoire of skills far exceeds those of your quintessential finisher so apparent in the Wales (except for Shane Williams), England and Scotland squads. In addition, there is real depth on the Ireland bench with, for example, Tom Court, Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls and Paddy Wallace, playing close to their best form. Leo Cullen is in the same category and has now been promoted to the starting line-up after Donncha O'Callaghan was forced to pull out due to the flare-up of a knee problem in training. Kidney is keeping his promise to develop a squad capable of competing at the World Cup. The evidence of the Churchill Cup and last Sunday's Ireland A performance against England Saxons are proof positive that the players, inside and outside the tent, are buying into his regime.

Ireland v Italy, Croke Park, tomorrow (KO 2.30) LIVE RTé2/BBC2

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, A Trimble; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; C Healy, J Flannery, J Hayes; L Cullen, P O'Connell; K McLaughlin, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

Italy: L McLean; K Robertson, G Canale, G Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; C Gower, T Tebaldi; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini (capt), M Castrogiovanni; C del Fava, Q Geldenhuys; J Sole, Mauro, Bergamasco, A Zanni.


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