Italy v Ireland, Six Nations Championship, February 15
Ireland keep faith for Rome trip
February 11, 2009

Ireland boss Declan Kidney has kept faith with the side that defeated France in their opening Six Nations game at Croke Park last weekend for the trip to face Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Ulster's Paddy Wallace and Munster's Jerry Flannery have both been passed fit for the game and take up their positions at centre and hooker respectively. Wallace slots back in to a midfield that will also see skipper Brian O'Driscoll win his 90th cap for Ireland, while Flannery's fellow front-rower John Hayes will win his 91st cap, equalling Malcolm O'Kelly's all-time record.

Rob Kearney, so impressive against France, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald continue their promising partnership in the back-three, while Munster half-backs Ronan O'Gara and Tomas O'Leary are again called into action for their country.

Kidney is expecting an exacting task in Rome, highlighting Italy's options up front and also their levels of experience.

"As the game against England went on, they got stronger and stronger," said Kidney. "A stat came up on the television regarding the number of caps that they have. The front row average somewhere in the region of 60 caps a man, there are 40 in the second row, 40 in the back row and 30 odd in the backs.

"That showed throughout the game because if teams are young and inexperienced in the first 20 minutes, it might go like that and they just don't know what to do. This was a team of experienced men who knew how to garner their resources, how to become far more resilient and got scores in the second half.

"They tightened up and when Italy tighten up you just look at the possession stakes. When you go into a match like Sunday you can't be too surprised if we'll have only 40% possession because when they get it they hold it for long periods of time. And if your discipline isn't right up there, they'll pick off their points and it could become a very difficult day."

Kidney resisted the urge to change his squad, despite Gordon D'Arcy's try-scoring return and Keith Earls beginning to train again with the squad.

"We talked long and hard about whether we would alternate things," Kidney said. "We put a good bit of thought into it, not so much as a negative reflection on how the lads played last Saturday, just the fact we're in a tournament.

"We've a stated objective of trying to build a squad since the start of the season, but on the balance of everything I felt it was best to go with the team the way it was because it had done well. There's no problem including Keith in anything but I could name Keith and a dozen guys like that. It just wasn't to be.

"With the 'A' team I didn't think it would be right to go chopping and changing there. So Keith's being training with us right throughout the week, and he'll garner experience from that."

Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); M Horan (Munster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester).


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