Starting another new cycle under the coaching tutelage of former Argentina fly-half Gonzalo Quesada, Italy began so brightly against England at the Stadio Olimpico with incisive tries from Alessandro Garbisi and Tommaso Allan either side of an Elliot Daly score, with the visitors finally asserting some much-needed control after the interval before Monty Ioane’s last-gasp effort ensured Italy’s smallest-ever losing margin against England - 27-24.
Ireland vs Italy takes place today, Sunday February 11, 2024, with kick-off at 3pm GMT.
The game will be hosted at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
TV channel: In the UK, Ireland vs Italy is being shown live and free-to-air on ITV1, with coverage beginning at 2:15pm.
Live stream: The ITVX website and ITVX app will also offer a free live stream online.
Ireland have made six changes for the visit of Italy, with No8 Caelan Doris handed the captaincy with Johnny Sexton’s successor Peter O’Mahony ruled out.
Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey replaces the absent Bundee Aki in midfield, while Craig Casey comes in for Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half.
In the pack, there is no Tadhg Furlong as Finlay Bealham starts at tighthead prop, while James Ryan replaces Tadhg Beirne in the second row and Ryan Baird and Jack Conan both come into the back row for O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier. Conan is at No8 with Doris switching to openside flanker.
There is still no Garry Ringrose due to injury, but Hugo Keenan and Calvin Nash retain their starting berths after knocks.
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Iain Henderson, Tom O’Toole, Jeremy Loughman, Harry Byrne and Jordan Larmour all come onto the bench.
Ireland remain without centre Garry Ringrose this weekend due to injuryAFP via Getty Images
Italy were dealt another double blow in the pack on Thursday with back-rowers Lorenzo Cannone and Edoardo Iachizzi both ruled out through injury, having already lost Sebastian Negri to a rib issue.
The Azzurri do at least have star man Ange Capuozzo back after a bout of gastroenteritis forced him to miss the defeat by England as Lorenzo Pani came in, while centre Tommaso Menoncello made his return in Rome after missing the World Cup through injury.
Simone Ferrari, Paolo Odogwu, Dino Lamb and Marco Riccioni are also sidelined for Italy, who handed debuts off the bench to prop Mirco Spagnolo and flanker Alessandro Izekor in round one as Federico Ruzza earned his 50th cap in the second row and Alessandro Garbisi joined older brother Paolo at half-back, picked ahead of Gloucester’s Stephen Varney.
There are four changes in total against Ireland, with Capuozzo replacing Allan at full-back and Varney now coming in for Alessandro Garbisi.
Izekor makes his first Italy start in place of the injured Negri, while Manuel Zuliani takes the place of Lorenzo Cannone.
South Africa-born flanker Ross Vintcent comes onto the bench and is set for his first cap, while Lyon’s Martin Page-Relo is also promoted to replacement.
Ireland XV: Keenan; Nash, Henshaw, McCloskey, Lowe; Crowley, Casey; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; McCarthy, Ryan; Baird, Doris (c), Conan
Replacements: Kelleher, Loughman, O'Toole, Henderson, Van der Flier, Gibson-Park, Byrne, Larmour
Italy XV: Capuozzo; Pani, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; P Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Lucchesi, Ceccarelli; N Cannone, Ruzza; Izekor, Zuliani, Lamaro (c)
Replacements: Nicotera, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Zambonin, Vintcent, Page-Relo, Allan, Mori
It is 11 years now since Italy’s one and only win over Ireland in the Six Nations, triumphing 22-15 in Rome in 2013.
Aside from a trio of Italy wins elsewhere in the mid-1990s, Ireland have won every other rugby game between the two nations across all competitions, including the last 14 in a row.
Italy lost 33-17 on their last visit to Dublin in the World Cup warm-ups last summer, while they were beaten 34-20 in Rome in the Six Nations in 2023, delivering a spirited performance against the eventual Grand Slam winners.
Ireland wins: 32
Italy wins: 4
Italy showed promising signs of real progress in the first half against England, with some vibrant attacking play and excellent running rugby.
Quesada will have been disappointed with their weaker second-half efforts before Ioane’s late try, but there was more than enough shown on opening weekend to suggest that the Azzurri might yet be able to seriously compete to avoid yet another last-place finish.
But going to Dublin is as tough a test as there is in world rugby right now, particularly after that scintillating defeat of France that showed Ireland are undoubtedly the favourites for Six Nations glory once again.
It’s impossible to see anything other than a commanding home victory at the Aviva.
Ireland to win, by 25 points.
Ireland to win: 1/100