Kiss wary of danger posed by Italy's 'tough cookie' Gower
Although most Croke Park eyes will be on the forward tussle tomorrow, Ireland defence coach Les Kiss has the inside track on the Azzurri out-half Craig Gower, just in case Italy uncharacteristically explode into attacking life.
"Gower has an injury going in but he's a tough cookie, I know him from Australian rugby league," says Ireland's shut-out guru.
"We have to keep an eye on him; he's a good player and and he's developing nicely into the game. When Gower first came across to the union game, he was one of the league players who really embraced it and wanted to invest in it. He wasn't half-baked about getting in there.
"He's a committed type of person in that respect and brings that to his game. He has a really good individual strength to his game; he can take the line at any moment. He'll be a threat, that's for sure."
Italy coach Nick Mallett has made no changes to the side that beat Samoa -- which ended a run of 12 defeats in November -- for tomorrow's daunting Six Nations opener against Ireland at Croke Park. Bayonne out-half Gower has recovered from a knee injury while Benetton Treviso's Alessandro Zanni will replace injured captain Sergio Parisse at No 8.
"It will be pretty hard to be like-for-like with someone like Parisse," admits Kiss. "Zanni has played a lot at six, he's played recent games at seven and a bit at eight. He's a slightly different player.
"Their back-row options will change as Parisse plays a different style of game. Zanni's strengths are in other areas and we'll prepare for them that way."
Parisse is out for the entire tournament with a knee problem, so Leonardo Ghiraldini will serve as captain. The Italians have won just one of their last 10 games in the Six Nations, a 23-20 victory over Scotland in Rome nearly two years ago.
Flanker Mauro Bergamasco will become only the third Italian player to reach 80 caps when he starts the game. Only assistant coach Alessandro Troncon (101) and team manager Carlo Checchinato (83) can boast longer international careers.
Prop Salvatore Perugini will also reach a milestone as he will become the only Italian player to appear in every Six Nations tournament since the southern Europeans were first admitted in 2000.
Italy also welcome back two veterans to the replacements bench. Lock Marco Bortolami and centre Andrea Masi, who missed the whole November Test series, will hope to feature at some stage at Croke Park.
Italy (v Ireland) -- L McLean; K Robertson, G Canale, G Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; C Gower, T Tebaldi; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, C Del Fava, Q Geldenhuys, J Sole, Mauro Bergamasco, A Zanni. Reps: F Ongaro, M Aguero, M Bortolami, P Derbyshire, S Picone, R Bocchino, A Masi.