Guinness Six Nations: Italy vs Ireland talking points ahead of Round 3
Italy will host Ireland at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday at 3pm
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 24/02/19 2:38pm
Italy welcome Ireland to Rome on Sunday and are going in search of their first Six Nations win for four years - we look at some of the key talking points...
No captain Sergio
Italy faced a tough ask welcoming the defending champions to Rome on Sunday regardless, but with skipper and talisman Sergio Parisse having picked up a concussion while playing for his club Stade Francais during last Saturday's fallow week and been ruled out, their job has been made all the more difficult.
Since their introduction to the Six Nations in 2000, Italy have only won 12 Championship Tests in their 20 campaigns. Parisse has been in the team for all but three of those.
Italy's first campaign in 2000 saw them beat Scotland in a Test which pre-dated Parisse's Test career, while he also missed victory over Wales in 2003 and the 2010 win over Scotland.
Yet he has been central to the other nine Test victories spanning 11 years (2004-2015) over Scotland (2004, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015), Wales (2007), France (2011, 2013) and Ireland (2013).
His absence is a monumental blow for Conor O'Shea.
Schmidt resists the temptation to tinker too much
Perhaps it's because this Test has fallen in the middle of two fallow weeks, perhaps it's because Wales made a shed-load of changes and failed to come away with a bonus-point win, but Joe Schmidt's Ireland team is considerably stronger than many imagined.
Indeed, the backs have remained completely unchanged from their 22-13 victory over Scotland in Round 2, with Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell, Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale and Rob Kearney all in from the start.
There are four changes to the forwards with Rory Best, James Ryan and Cian Healy rested, but there is considerable experience left in the form of Tadgh Furlong, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien.
Joey Carbery's hamstring injury is a shame as this Test could have provided valuable game time in the 10 shirt for him - albeit Sexton has been short on minutes since December and could well have started anyway.
Either way, it's a surprise to see Ireland go so strong. Expect them to target a big, big score.
Cronin's incredible record to come to an end
When it was first mentioned Sunday's Test would be Leinster hooker Sean Cronin's first Six Nations start, it seemed near unbelievable.
The 32-year-old has earned 67 caps for his country and played in 32 Championship games before now, yet it turns out he has never started a Test in this competition.
Since the beginning of 2007, Rory Best has featured in 60 of Ireland's 61 Six Nations Tests. Niall Scannell and Jerry Flannery have started Championship Tests during Cronin's time too.
It's been 10 years in the making, but on Sunday Cronin will finally start a Six Nations game - let's hope it lives up to the wait for him!
Italy losing run
Heading into this one, Italy have lost a record 19 Six Nations Tests in a row stretching back four years to 2015 - they have not won a Six Nations Test in Rome since 2013.
Sunday's meeting with Ireland will be their 100th Championship game and one in which they will be seeking to avoid their 88th defeat.
No one can question their passion or enthusiasm for the sport but so as long as such form continues, questions over their future from certain quarters will persist as well.
If a last-place finish does transpire again for Italy it would be the 14th time they found themselves at the foot of the table since their arrival in 2000.
They desperately need a result.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi; 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 3 Simone Ferrari, 4 Federico Ruzza, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 8 Braam Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Alessandro Zanni, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Dave Kilcoyne, 2 Sean Cronin, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Ultan Dillane, 5 Quinn Roux, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 8 Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Andrew Conway.