With the Six Nations title out of reach for Ireland, Andy Farrell has the opportunity to experiment with his match-day squad for Rome.
Italy have shown some nice attacking flair in their opening two Six Nations fixtures but have been porous in defence, providing Ireland with the perfect chance to hone their attacking skills.
While the highly-praised Harry Byrne hasn’t been included in Farrell’s 36-man squad, there is still plenty of room for Ireland to experiment against the Italians this Saturday.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 21, 2021
Below is the team that we think should take on Italy.
Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong
Three changes in the front row to the side that faced France as game-time will help Kilcoyne and Furlong to get back to their best, while Kelleher will offer plenty in attack in what promises to be a high-scoring game.
Cian Healy, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter have all played well so far in the Six Nations and deserve to still be thought of as Ireland’s first-choice front-row, but all three have gotten plenty of minutes under their belt.
Despite their recent return from injury, Kilcoyne and Furlong should prove to have too much for the Italian scrum, while a good day at the lineout for Kelleher could see the Leinster man start against Scotland.
Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan
Having missed the game against France, Farrell should aim to bring Ryan back up to speed ahead of bigger games against Scotland and Italy.
Beirne was a lot quieter against Les Bleus than he was against Wales, but the Munster lock will excel in what should be a more open game against the Azzurri.
Iain Henderson has done absolutely nothing wrong, but now is the time to blood young Leinster man Ryan Baird, who could cause havoc for the Italian defence in the last 30 minutes or so of the match.
Rhys Ruddock, Will Connors and Jack Conan
Ruddock put in a solid shift against France, and in the absence of Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris, looks set to continue as Ireland’s starting blindside flanker for the rest of the championship.
Josh van der Flier has been underwhelming in the Six Nations so far, creating an opportunity for Will Connors to stake his claim for the starting seven shirt, after two decent cameos off the bench.
Stander will start against Scotland and England, but for the time being Conan deserves another opportunity at number eight, having impressed for Leisnter against Dragons at the weekend.
Craig Casey and Johnny Sexton
Casey was unlucky not to be sprung from the bench for the game against France, but perhaps will be more at ease making his international debut against the likes of Italy.
As Harry Byrne has been omitted from the Ireland squad, Sexton should start to get some more rugby under his belt while providing a calming influence on his half-back partner.
Should things go against Ireland on Saturday, Conor Murray can be introduced to steady the ship, while Ross Byrne deserves a spot of the bench for his solid showing against France.
Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose
No changes necessary here, as Ireland’s first-choice centre pairing can only improve the more they play together.
Despite both being Ireland’s best centres for quite some time, their playing time with one another has been somewhat limited due to one or both of them being injured.
The likes of Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell have filled in very well for them on those occasions, but Henshaw and Ringrose do offer slightly more than their challengers.
Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour and Hugo Keenan
Ireland’s starting wingers in the last two games – James Lowe and Keith Earls – have largely disappointed so far, with both men making a number of errors despite some flashes of good play.
Conway hasn’t gotten many opportunities under Farrell recently, having last played against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup, but has been a consistent performer for Munster this season.
Larmour has impressed when introduced off the bench, while Keenan has been very solid for Ireland in the back field, despite having made his international debut only four months ago.
Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Iain Henderson, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne and Shane Daly.
A healthy blend of experience and youth on the bench, the likes of Ryan Baird and Shane Daly could really announce their arrival to international rugby with impressive cameos against Italy.
Despite mainly playing as a lock, Henderson can provide ample cover in the back row and will provide leadership in the pack if needed in Stander and O’Mahony’s absence.
Byrne will want to build on his solid performance against the French and show his attacking ability against what has been a leaky Italian defence to date.