04 August 2023

Staking a claim for the World Cup – Ireland versus Italy talking points

04 August 2023

Ireland begin their World Cup warm-up matches by hosting Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Head coach Andy Farrell has named an experimental matchday squad for his side’s first fixture since clinching the Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam in March.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of Saturday evening’s match.

“Silver lining” of Sexton’s ban

Johnny Sexton’s three-match suspension has opened the door for his rival fly-halves to gain some much-needed international experience this month. Jack Crowley is the first to be handed an opportunity to impress. The 23-year-old’s selection is reward for his fine form for Munster, which included United Rugby Championship glory in May. Uncapped Ciaran Frawley awaits his chance on the bench, with fellow Leinster player Ross Byrne – Sexton’s main understudy during the Six Nations – hoping for involvement against England and Samoa in the coming weeks. Forwards coach Paul O’Connell described game time for the rookie trio as a “real good silver lining” to Sexton’s undesirable situation.

Staking a claim

Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls have just three games to secure places on the plane to France, with Farrell due to cut his 42-man squad down to 33 on August 28. Only three men – Robbie Henshaw, Caelan Doris and Ryan Baird – have retained starting roles from Ireland’s Six Nations success over England in March in a much-changed matchday 23. Many of the others are on the periphery and fighting for a spot. Lock Joe McCarthy and prop Tom O’Toole will make their first and second Test starts respectively, while potential debutants Frawley, Calvin Nash and Tom Stewart are joined on the bench by Connacht rookies Cian Prendergast and Caolin Blade.

Rare start for Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale was player of the championship during Ireland’s 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam win and a guaranteed starter at the last World Cup. But his international career has very much hit the buffers. The 27-year-old is set to make his first Test appearance for more than two years and just his sixth start of the Farrell era. James Lowe has emerged as Ireland’s first choice on the left wing, yet Keith Earls, who wins his 99th cap this weekend, is the only current squad member to have scored more Ireland tries than Stockdale (19). Farrell believes the Ulster player is still capable of being a “tremendous asset”.

Maintaining momentum

Tadhg Beirne, who is among the replacements, this week pointed to poor warm-up performances contributing to Ireland’s underwhelming World Cup campaign in Japan four years ago. Farrell and members of his squad have repeatedly stressed the Italy fixture is far from a friendly as, in addition to individuals competing for places, they attempt to maintain collective momentum going into the tournament in France. Ireland are bidding for an 11th successive win and a 15th on the bounce at home to protect their number one world ranking. They have lost just one of 21 Aviva Stadium fixtures under Farrell – to France in 2021.

England-born pair switch allegiances

Azzurri head coach Kieran Crowley has made nine personnel changes from last weekend’s 25-13 Murrayfield loss to Scotland, including naming two debutants of interest to English rugby fans: Paolo Odogwu and Dino Lamb. Coventry-born Odogwu, a former Sale and Wasps player, trained with England during Eddie Jones’ tenure. The 26-year-old will line up on Italy’s right wing, while Harlequins’ ex-England Under-20 international Lamb has been picked in the second row having also switched allegiances. Crowley’s selection is strong as Italy go in search of a first success on Irish soil since 1997 to add to their recent scalps of Wales and Australia.

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