A rejigged Ireland side will hope to rack up the points against struggling Italy on Sunday. Here's what you need to know about the round three encounter in Dublin

Six Nations Ireland v Italy Preview

If pre-match predictions come true, France, England and Ireland – the top three coming into round three of the Guinness Six Nations – will be left to scrap it out for the title in March.

An Irish win against Italy in Dublin on Sunday (3pm) is almost a given, which is why head coach Andy Farrell has felt comfortable ringing the changes from the team beaten narrowly at Stade de France a fortnight ago.

Ireland’s ruck (90%) and gain-line (62%) success last time they played at the Aviva, including recycling 71% of their own ruck ball in less than three seconds, was too much for Wales to handle. So you fear for Italy, whose promise in defeat in Paris was somewhat punctured by their scoreless loss to England in round two.

For new coach Kieran Crowley, selection must seem like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but certainly he will discover lots about the character of his players on Sunday.

Farrell’s learnings will be tempered by the lower standard of opposition, but it will be interesting to see how Joey Carbery goes again at fly-half. After years of doubt about the successor to Johnny Sexton, Ireland look to have a cast-iron back-up. Who knows, perhaps he will even usurp the great Sexton by the time the World Cup rolls around next year.

What’s the big team news?

Ireland ring the changes against the likely wooden spoonists. In the back three, Ulster’s Michael Lowry makes his Test debut at full-back and James Lowe returns from a groin injury at left-wing, with Mack Hansen switching to 14. Hugo Keenan and Andrew Conway make way.

Skipper Sexton has recovered from a hamstring injury but must settle for a place among the replacements as Carbery, ten years his junior, gets a chance to build on his start against France. With second-row James Ryan out with an adductor injury sustained in training, Peter O’Mahony captains the side from blindside flanker.

Six Nations Ireland v Italy Preview Michael Lowry

Michael Lowry leads the metres (562) and defenders beaten (23) stats in the Champions Cup (Inpho)

O’Mahony’s inclusion means Jack Conan, a Test starter for the Lions last summer, drops to the bench with Caelan Doris switching to the No 8 shirt.

Ronan Kelleher’s shoulder injury in Paris leaves Dan Sheehan free to step in at hooker for his first start and Ryan Baird partners Tadhg Beirne in the engine room.

In midfield, Robbie Henshaw replaces Bundee Aki, who is one of five players from the starting XV in Paris to drop out of the squad. Conor Murray is another of those, as Craig Casey gets the scrum-half bench role, while Iain Henderson is another – the Ulster lock has Covid and is isolating at home. Rob Herring, recovered from a calf injury, is among the replacements.

Six Nations Ireland v Italy Preview

How the land lies ahead of the round three matches. Only France still have a shot at the Grand Slam

Italy make three changes to the starting XV beaten by England a fortnight ago. Right-wing Federico Mori is replaced by Pierre Bruno, who scored on his Test debut against Uruguay last autumn in the match that ended his country’s 16-match losing run.

Leonardo Marin, who celebrated his 20th birthday this week, is brought into midfield at the expense of Marco Zanon, who drops to the bench.

And there’s another swap up front where Giovanni Pettinelli starts ahead of Abraham Steyn. Sebastian Negri is unavailable after his head injury against England, while David Sisi takes his place on the bench after missing the England game to attend the birth of his child.

Six Nations Ireland v Italy Preview

Pierre Bruno scores on his Italy debut during the win v Uruguay in Parma last November (AFP/Getty)

What have the two sides said?

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell (on discipline): “We’ve certainly not got an issue with discipline at all. In fact, we’re an unbelievably disciplined side. Quite a few of the penalties given against us (in Paris) were through inaccuracies on our part. Discipline isn’t just about people being offside – you tend to fall on the wrong side of it if you’re inaccurate.”

Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll: “It’s tricky to not play your captain if he’s fit, particularly if you’re looking at being ready for England. Johnny is one of the players that could play against England having got 20 or 30 minutes against Italy.

“We have to be mindful that we give enough game time to our perceived second-string player (Joey Carbery). Make sure they’re equipped and ready to go with the necessary game experience to take on World Cup matches. The fact it was his first Six Nations start (in Paris a fortnight ago) said it all. He needs more starts.”

Italy head coach Kieran Crowley (on whether to introduce promotion and relegation): “I’m not against it. It might be a good thing. That’s a decision for the boardrooms.

“What I will say is that we can silence that chat with our own performances. We know that we have to start pulling our weight.”

Ireland front row

Ireland’s replacement front row of Finlay Bealham, Rob Herring and Dave Kilcoyne in training (Inpho)

Any interesting statistics?
  • Ireland have won all but one of their 22 Six Nations games with Italy. Their sole defeat was a 22-15 defeat in Rome in 2013, Italy’s last home victory in the championship
  • Italy are on a record 34-match losing run in the championship
  • Defeat on Sunday would be their 100th loss in the Six Nations
  • Ireland have scored 50 points or more in each of their last three home games against the Azzurri, racking up 24 tries in that period
  • Ireland have lost just two of their last 22 home matches in the Six Nations. England (2019) and France (2021) were the teams to dent their Dublin fortress
  • After two rounds of this tournament, Ireland average 2.6 points per entry into the opposition 22 – the best rate of any team. Italy have the worst rate, at 0.5
  • Italy have yet to score a point in the second half this year. They come into the match on the back of their sixth pointless Six Nations match (0-33 v England)
  • Ireland have stolen 23% of opposition lineouts in the championship – top of the chart
  • They are also one of three teams with a 100% scrum return on their own feed, along with England and Scotland
  • Italy’s Federico Ruzza tops the championship’s individual lineout stats, with 16 wins
  • Team-mate Michele Lamaro has made 41 tackles – the highest figure in the tournament
  • Ireland backs Mack Hansen and Jamison Gibson Park are two of six players to have both scored and assisted a try in the first two rounds

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

Ireland v Italy, Sunday 27 February at Aviva Stadium

The match kicks off at 3pm in Dublin and will be broadcast live on ITV. There will be radio commentary on Sports Extra Simulcast.

Nika Amashukeli, the first Georgian to referee in the Six Nations, is in charge of this one. England’s Matt Carley and Christophe Ridley take the flags and France’s Eric Gauzins is the Television Match Official.

What are the line-ups?

Ireland: Michael Lowry; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 James Hume.

Italy: Edoardo Padovani; Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Leonardo Marin, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucceshi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli, Michele Lamaro (capt), Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: 16 Epalahame Faiva, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Abraham Steyn, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Marco Zanon.

Italy huddle

Circling the wagons: Italy are used to handling criticism about their long losing run (LightRocket/Getty)

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