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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

Ireland Make Seven Changes For Italy

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(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The Ireland coaching group have made seven changes to the side that started against France in round 2 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship. There are two uncapped players in the replacements.

Craig Casey, who was on the bench for the game against France, and Ryan Baird are in line for their first international caps in Stadio Olimpico on Saturday afternoon.

Johnny Sexton returns to captain the side and partners Jamison Gibson Park in the halfbacks.

This weekend has come too soon for Conor Murray who is continuing his hamstring rehab.

Robbie Henshaw, who earns his 50th cap for Ireland, will again partner Garry Ringrose in the midfield. Henshaw made his Ireland debut against USA on the 2013 Summer Tour, a few days before his 20th birthday.

Hugo Keenan retains the No.15 jersey with James Lowe on the left wing and Jordan Larmour coming in on the right hand side.

A new front row combination of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadgh Furlong is set to start.

James Ryan returns to the second row to partner  Iain Henderson.

Tadgh Beirne shifts to the backrow filling the blindside role with Will Connors at openside and CJ Stander at No.8.

The replacements for the weekend are Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Jack Conan, Billy Burns, Keith Earls and the uncapped duo of Baird and Casey

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Italy, 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Stadio Olimpico , Saturday, February 27, kick-off 2:15pm):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 8 caps
14. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 26 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 32 caps
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 49 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 4 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 96 caps CAPTAIN
9.
 Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 7 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 40 caps
2. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 8 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 46 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 60 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 33 caps
6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 19 caps
7. Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) 7 caps
8. CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 48 caps

Replacements

16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 18 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 106 caps
18. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) uncapped
20. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 17 caps
21. Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) uncapped
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 5 caps
23. Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 90 caps

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6 Nations

England name team for Round 3 v Wales

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Eddie Jones has named his side for this weekend’s key Guinness Six Nations match against Wales.

England will travel to Cardiff to take on Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday 27 February (4.45pm KO).

Elliot Daly is set to make his 50th appearance for England, at full back.  Daly made his England debut in February 2016 in a 21-10 victory over Ireland.

Captain Owen Farrell is at inside centre, Henry Slade at outside centre and George Ford stays at fly half.  Ben Youngs continues at scrum half, with Jonny May (left) and Anthony Watson (right) on the wings.

Jamie George returns at hooker, with Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler as props alongside in the front row.  Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill stay in the second row.

Mark Wilson starts as blind-side flanker, Tom Curry is open-side flanker and Billy Vunipola continues at No. 8.

George Martin could make his England debut after being named as finisher.  Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Dan Robson and Max Malins make up the finishers.

Eddie Jones said: “Wales is a really special fixture and rivalry.  There is a long history between the two nations and the game means a lot to both countries.

“We know we’ll be up against a strong Welsh challenge on Saturday, but we’ve worked really hard in training this week and have got a very good team to face it.

“We want to show people what we are capable of, keep building our performances and the best is yet to come from this England team.”

In their remaining championship fixtures, England will then play France at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday 13 March (4.45pm KO) before travelling to Dublin to take on Ireland on Saturday 20 March (4.45pm KO).

Wales v England is live on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.

England XV Starters
15. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 49 caps)
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 48 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 36 caps)
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens, 90 caps)
11. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 63 caps)
10. George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 74 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 106 caps)
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)
2. Jamie George (Saracens, 56 caps)
3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 41 caps)
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 45 caps)
5. Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 6 caps)
6. Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons, 20 caps)
7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 30 caps)
8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 58 caps)
 
Finishers
16. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 28 caps)
17. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 25 caps)
18. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 10 caps)
19. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 18 caps)
20. George Martin (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
21. Ben Earl (Bristol Bears, 10 caps)
22. Dan Robson (Wasps, 9 caps)
23. Max Malins (Bristol Bears, 5 caps)
ENDS

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6 Nations

Huge boost for Ulster & Ireland as Henderson signs new deal

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ulster captain, Iain Henderson, who has represented the province on 116 occasions, has secured his future with the club for the next two years.

Craigavon-born Henderson, who took up the role of Ulster captain in 2019, has progressed through the Ulster development system. Starting with mini rugby at Academy RFC, his early playing career saw him reach the final of the Danske Bank Schools Cup in 2010 with Belfast Royal Academy, represent Queen’s University Belfast as well as Ireland at Age-Grade level, before quickly rising through the ranks of senior professional rugby in the province.

Iain, who captained Ireland for the first time against France in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, made his international debut against South Africa in November 2012 and has won 60 caps to date for his country. 

A Lions tourist in 2017, Iain succeeded Rory Best as Ulster captain in 2019.  

David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented,

“Over the past few seasons Iain has really developed into a leader within both the Ireland and Ulster squads. He is part of the national leadership group, captaining Ireland recently for the first time and we are delighted to have ensured that he continues his career in Ireland.”

Iain Henderson, commented,

“It has been a great honour to captain both Ulster and Ireland in recent times. Irish rugby is in a good place despite the disruption the sport has experienced during the pandemic. As professionals, we have been in a privileged position to be able to continue playing and I know we all hope to see supporters back in the Aviva and Kingspan in the near future.”

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