VIDEO: Neil Francis and Tony Ward: Irish will be beaten up but will survive Italian test
Saturday will be an uncomfortable Six Nations test for Ireland, but they should get the job done according to Neil Francis and Tony Ward.
The pair were speaking to Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor for Independent.ie' Six Nations Rugby panel to discuss the opening fixture of the 2015 competition.
Ireland, who have the best away winning percentage in the Six Nations, travel to Rome and both columnists believe that while it may not be pretty, Ireland's defence should get off to a winning start.
Tony Ward said that while the boisterous Italian atmosphere and improvements under Jacques Brunel will make them difficult opponents.
"They are really trying to sell rugby over there, though they are never going to beat soccer," he said. They are winning a portion of fans in Rome.
"When you add to that an Italian team that most plays abroad and the quality of players they have they are a serious threat.
"I think it's going to be very close. It's the opening game and a potential banana skin.
Neil Francis agrees and says the game will take its toll physically on the players with the French arriving the following weekend in Dublin.
"Heaslip is a huge loss, Sexton is a huge loss," he admitted.
"If we can get by this and get Sexton back on the pitch for France that will be key.
"I think it will be uncomfortable. As a forward, you just hate playing these matches because you know you are going to get beaten up but you are going to win. You will be sitting in the dressing room with your arse in a sling."
"Joe goes with his gut and I admire that," Ward says. "He doesn't chance his arm.
"He sees something in a player and to me that is good coaching. Madigan buys into it, Keatley buys into it. Madigan knows that if he is not picked there is a reason for it. It will be no different the next day."
"If it is Keatley, I'll go with that as well. Personally I would go with Madigan but I can understand if he makes that call.
Francis outlined what he feels is the key difference between the two out-halves.
"Keatley is a cerebral player. He assesses what is in front of him but his confidence isn't great.
"Madigan is an instinctive player. If he isn't picked I think it will be a big blow to him because I think he is a better player than Keatley."