Azzurri can stay close to lacklustre Ireland

It hasn’t been the Championship defence that Joe Schmidt and Ireland might have wanted, but that shouldn’t stop them getting a routine win in Rome on Sunday.

The Azzurri have only got one Six Nations win over Ireland on their CV, a 22-15 success in the Stadio Olimpico back in 2013.

Since then it has been five straight victories for Ireland and Conor O’Shea’s side are 17.00 underdogs to stun his native country on Sunday afternoon in the Italian capital.

It looks highly unlikely but, in the same vein, taking Ireland -29.5-points in the handicap market at 1.99 also comes with more than a hint of danger attached.

Ireland’s vintage year

The Green Machine was in full flow last season as Schmidt’s side won a Grand Slam, an overdue series success on Australian soil and, memorably, a first-ever win over the All Blacks in Dublin.

It was a vintage year for Ireland but now the questions are being asked – did they peak too soon? The World Cup looms in Japan this coming autumn and the manner of Ireland’s defeat by England in their Six Nations opener caused concern.

They were workmanlike, at best, in seeing off Scotland in their second game and will surely make it two from three against Italy.

Azzurri can hang in

Losing talisman Sergio Parisse for this clash is a loss, but O’Shea’s side will attempt to make this a scrap. Ireland are capable of scoring tries and will have Jacob Stockdale as a major threat. However, there are questions to be answered by their half-back partnership of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton – both of whom have lacked game-time in 2019.

All in all, Italy are expected to stay in this contest and keep Ireland at relatively close quarters. An upset is tough to forecast, but Italy +29.5-points at 1.78 is the safest of the handicap options given the form of both teams so far.

It is worth noting that Ireland’s 63-10 win in Rome in the 2017 Six Nations was a blot in terms of the sheer ease with which they ran up a scoreline. It is the only time in nine visits to Italy in this tournament that the Irish would have satisfied a 29.5-point handicap against them.