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6 Nations

Italy’s World Cup Squad Depth

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Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Another year, another wooden spoon for the Italians. This is now the fourth tournament that they have gone winless, their last coming in Murrayfield back in 2015. Conor O’Shea has spoken at length about the project that Italian rugby is, and this year it is finally showing results. Kieran Crowley has coached Benetton to second place in their Pro14 conference, and while there may have been no wins, there has definite improvement internationally. They showed they are able to compete with the big boys, they can stay in games until the final whistle. The Azzurri’s biggest problem is that they have no killer instinct when in the opposition 22. The game against France was there for the taking, but so many chances went begging.

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It seems now that Conor O’Shea has found what his strongest team is, and there is depth coming in positions where there was none before. With a full deck to choose from, Italy could have a very strong team indeed in the World Cup

Full-Backs/Wing

Matteo Minozzi missed this years championship but the little full-back lit up the championship with his dazzling footwork and pace. Jayden Hayward took his spot this year; while he wasn’t as box office in attack, the Treviso full-back was defensively solid, and was always good for metres in attack. Edoardo Padovani has played most of his international rugby at full-back, and is more than comfortable on the wing.  Zebre’s Mattia Bellini has been a fixture on the left wing in Conor O’Shea’s tenure, and is one of the best wings available.

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Midfield

Michele Campagnaro is one of the best centres in Europe. Harlequins’ latest acquisition is one of those players that just seems to find space where there is none, and glides through tackles like a hot knife through butter. Injuries have meant we haven’t seen as much of Campagnaro in recent years as we would have liked, but he is a massive addition to the Italy backline when fit. Luca Morisi is a very dependable 12, and Marco Zanon looks promising.

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Halfbacks

Italy have great depth at 10. Tommy Allan is an excellent playmaker and a threat with ball in hand. Carlo Canna can kick goals from way out and is always good for a jackal turnover. Ian McKinley is as good as the other two even though he’s only got one eye. Scrum-half stocks are not as good. Tito Tebaldi had a fantastic Six Nations, but other than him, there are no real standouts.

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Back Row

Italy have a seriously good backrow heading into the World Cup. On either side of captain fantastic Sergio should be Benetton’s Sebastian Negri, and Gloucester’s Jake Polledri. Polledri made a huge difference to the Italian pack after missing the opening rounds of this years Six Nations, and is likely to be a fixture in the team for years to come. South African import Braam Steyn has been rock solid when called upon. Giovanni Licata and Renato Giammaroli are promising players that will push for a spot once Sergio Parisse has bid farewell to the Azzurri.

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Second Row

Benetton second row Federico Ruzza was one of the standout performers for Italy after this year. He came on as a subsitute against Scotland, and after impressing with some carries in the wide channels, and a try assist was fixture in the remaining matchday squads. Tight five is where Italy struggle for depth. David Sisi is a solid player as is Dean Budd, but Alessandro Zanni is nearing the end of his career, and other than that, there is no one really stepping up. Apart from Ruzza, much of these players fall into the “solid but unspectacular” category, and the same is true of the props.

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Front Row

Leonardo Ghiraldini, an Italian rugby legend has probably played his last game for his country. After an emotional exit off the Stadio Olimpico turf, a serious knee injury means he will not play at the World Cup. His loss while be felt big-time, and Luca Bigi will be the man to step up in his place. Andrea Lovotti is the incumbent loosehead, with the massive presence of Cherif Traore backing him up. Tiziano Pasquali has overtaken Simone Ferrari on the tighthead side. Italy have not got real depth in the front row, and will be praying for no injuries in that department

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Starting Team

15. Matteo Minozzi

14. Edoardo Padovani

13. Michele Campagnaro

12. Luca Morisi

11. Mattia Bellini

10. Tommy Allan

9. Tito Tebaldi

  1. Andrea Lovotti
  2. Luca Bigi
  3. Tiziano Pasquali
  4. Dave Sisi
  5. Federico Ruzza
  6. Sebastian Negri
  7. Jake Polledri
  8. Sergio Parisse

6 Nations

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Image Credit: London Irish

London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.

O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011. 

He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017. 

O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation. 

On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions. 

“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. 

“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. 

“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old. 

“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. 

“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. 

“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. 

“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. 

“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey. 

“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. 

“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. 

“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. 

“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. 

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

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6 Nations

Dan Leavy to retire

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

It has been announced that Leinster Rugby back row Dan Leavy is to retire from the game with immediate effect.

The 27-year-old has played 79 times for Leinster Rugby since his debut against Edinburgh Rugby in October 2014 and has also won 11 Ireland caps.

Unfortunately, Leavy suffered a significant knee injury against Ulster Rugby in March 2019, and following expert medical opinion, and despite his best efforts, he has been advised to retire.

Speaking to leinsterrugby.ie, Leavy said, “I have done everything I can to come back from the knee injury I suffered in 2019 but unfortunately I can’t do any more or ask any more of my body.

“I’d like to thank Andy Williams, my surgeon, and Karl Denvir, my physio in Leinster, for all that they have done for me in the years since then. I can take solace from the fact that I tried everything over the last three years.

“From the early days in Old Belvedere to my time in St Michael’s College, all I wanted was to pull on a Leinster Rugby jersey. And then when you achieve that, it’s an Ireland jersey.

“I am very proud of all that I achieved in my short time as a professional.

“Some amazing highs with my brothers in blue and in green and I am beyond grateful for those days and those moments especially the highs of 2018 in Bilbao, the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham.

“More than that I am proud of how I carried myself, in particular over the last few years, and I hope I represented my club, my country, my family and friends to the best of my abilities in those years. I am beyond grateful to them all for their support and in particular to my mum and dad, Eilish and Donal, my sister, Rachel, and my brother, Adam.

“I am also very grateful to Leo Cullen. Leo has been an unbelievable support to me over the last few years. On the field, and off, and I cannot thank him enough.

“Not many people get to enjoy and experience what I have over the last 10 years representing my school, my club and my country.

“This is not the end I had hoped for, but as I look back, at the highs and the lows, they have all been shared with the best teammates, family and friends around me, and what more could I ask for?”

Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen said, “Dan was a player earmarked from an early age as a special talent and I think everyone could see that, particularly in those few years in and around 2017, ’18 and ’19, just how dynamic and destructive a player he could be with Leinster and with Ireland where he went on to achieve unprecedented success at that time.

“While the public have seen very little of Dan since his injury, we have seen plenty of him in here and we have seen the same determination, character and drive that marked him out on the pitch as one of the best.

“Dan has also received incredible support from his family and all the medical staff here along the difficult path of trying to return to playing.

“Speaking on behalf of the support staff here at Leinster Rugby it has been a pleasure and privilege to have worked with Dan. He always brought such a positive energy to the group and we will all miss him dearly but would like to acknowledge the significant contribution he has made to the team during his time here.

“Talking to him, Dan is very appreciative of the times he has enjoyed in here with Leinster but now, it’s about us all supporting him as best we can as he starts that next stage in his life.

“I have no doubt that he will apply himself with the same determination that we have seen since he first pulled on a Leinster jersey in 2014 and that he will make a success of himself away from the rugby fields. We wish him well and I hope he knows that there will always be a warm welcome for him here in UCD or down the road at the RDS.”

Leavy, who played seven times for Leinster this season and last appeared against Ulster Rugby last month, made his debut in 2014 and has played 79 times in total for Leinster Rugby scoring 17 tries.

He was an ever-present member of the double-winning Leinster Rugby squad of 2017/18 and he brought that club form to the international stage when making his Irish debut in November 2016 against Canada at Aviva Stadium.

He made his Six Nations debut later that season coming off the bench against England at Aviva Stadium in March 2017.

During his Ireland career, he never lost a game in his 11 caps and was a key member of the Grand Slam-winning side of 2018.

Everyone in Leinster Rugby sends Dan our very best wishes for the future, and thank him most sincerely, for brilliant days in blue.

Dan Leavy Biog:

DOB: 23 May 1994
Birthplace: Dublin
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 16st 7lbs
Leinster Caps / Tries: 79 / 17
Ireland Caps / Tries: 11 / 3

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6 Nations

Ireland Team Named For Super Saturday Scotland Showdown

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Image Credit: Irish Rugby

Andy Farrell has named the final Ireland Match Day Squad of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship ahead of the Round 5 clash with Scotland at Aviva Stadium this coming Saturday.

Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are retained in midfield with a back three featuring Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Mack Hansen, the Connacht wing comes in for Andrew Conway who is being managed for a knee niggle.

The front row of Cian HealyDan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong is retained while Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson are named at lock.

Jack Conan is named at No.8 with Caelan Doris switching to the blindside flank and Josh van der Flier makes his eight consecutive start at openside.

The replacements are Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw.

The game which kicks off at 4.45pm will be televised by VIRGIN (ROI) and ITV (NI).  Ireland can win the Triple Crown for the first time since 2018 by beating Scotland.

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Scotland, 2022 Guinness Six Nations, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, March 19, kick-off 4.45pm):

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
14. Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
1. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
4. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
5. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
6. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
8. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps

Replacements
16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
17. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
18. Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
22. Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
23. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps

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