IRISH lock Paul O'Connell believes that Italy will provide a stern test for the defending champions in their Six Nations opener on Saturday despite the loss of Sergio Parisse through injury.
A snapped cruciate knee ligament has sidelined the Italian captain for the entire RBS Six Nations, leaving the Azzurri without one of their key men.
But O'Connell says the absence of Parisse from the game at Croke Park is not concerning the Grand Slam champions as they prepare for what should be a high-octane encounter on Saturday afternoon.
"He's a great player and he's a loss for them but no one team is built around one man," admitted O'Connell. "They'll move on, same as we would if we had an injury to one of our top players.
"Certainly he's a great player and a big loss to them, but we've got to look beyond that and not be too worried about that."
Whatever team coach Nick Mallett opts for, the Six Nations minnows are sure to have strength in depth in their pack.
With quality and experienced players like prop Martin Castrogiovanni (62 caps), lock Marco Bortolami (77 caps) and flanker Mauro Bergamasco (79 caps) in their panel, Munster stalwart O'Connell knows only too well the physical test the Italians will provide.
O'Connell said: "The set piece is very strong for them, lineout and scrum. You really need to work hard and take them on there, and see what happens after that.
"There's no doubt at the weekend it will be a big forward battle, and we need to perform there before the backs can do anything."
Italy failed to win any of their Championship matches last year, finishing bottom of the pile, but they have the ability to start well in the Six Nations -- they beat Scotland in their opening game in 2000, did likewise to Wales in 2003 and just two seasons ago they ran Ireland to within five points at Croke Park.
Meanwhile, Marcus Horan has missed out on a place in the Ireland squad for the Italian clash.
The Munster prop has been named in the Ireland A panel to face Scotland A at Ravenhill on Friday.
Horan made his return to Ireland duty against England Saxons on Sunday after undergoing an operation in October to correct an irregular heartbeat.
Horan's inclusion in the A squad, which has been rebranded as the Ireland Wolfhounds, means that John Hayes, Cian Healy and Ulster's Tom Court are the men in contention for the prop slots against Italy.
Irish Wolfhounds squad: Isaac Boss (Ballymena/ Ulster), Nigel Brady (Belfast Harlequins/ Ulster), Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster), Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/ Ulster), Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster), Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster), Marcus Horan (Shannon/ Munster), Ian Humphreys (Ballymena/Ulster), Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster), Shane Jennings (St Mary's College/Leinster), Ian Keatley (Galwegians/Connacht). Keith Matthews (Buccaneers/ Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Johne Murphy (Leicester Tigers), Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster), Niall Ronan (Shannon/ Munster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster) Devin Toner (Lansdowne/ Leinster).