Rory Best knows Italy shouldn't be underestimated

One of the things that makes the RBS 6 Nations so special is the standard of competition on show. Gone are the days when Italy are thumped by 30 points or more, as Ireland hooker Rory Best knows only too well, writes Bea Asprey.

Ireland have never lost in the Six Nations to the Azzurri, who they meet at Aviva Stadium on 25 February.

But they came perilously close to bucking that trend last year, when it took a Ronan O’Gara drop-goal in the 77th minute at the Stadio Flaminio to save their bacon [highlights below].

“We had Italy first up and we’d only had a week together to prepare,” recalls Best, 29. “We were very, very rusty. Every year they keep getting better and better and we had a few chances that we didn’t take. They kept growing in belief, and in the end we were relieved to get out of there with a win. When we saw what they did to the rest of the teams, it put our result into context.”

Italy famously beat France in the third round of last year’s tournament, and with new coach Jacques Brunel at the helm they will be keen to claim another big scalp. Best knows that all teams will have to be at their best to stop them.

“The Italian players are now exposed to club rugby on a regular basis, and with two teams in the Pro12 they’re attracting a few players back from France. Their general discipline has improved, and although you could never fault their passion, aggression and pride, they’ve now managed to harness those qualities.

“You have to win the battle up front against Italy,” Best continues. “They’re up there with the most physical teams in the tournament, and it’s important to match their physicality and pride. We need to operate well in the scrum, lineout and maul and get our backs the ball – that’s one way Italy can be beaten. But we’re under no illusions, they now believe they can beat us and we have to maintain our composure to be able to win.”

DID YOU KNOW: Italy has only won 8 out of 60 matches since their inclusion in 2000.

Ireland Starting XV:
15 – Rob Kearney
14 – Tommy Bowe
13 – Keith Earls
12 – Gordon D’Arcy
11 – Andrew Trimble
10 – Jonathan Sexton
9 – Conor Murray
1 – Cian Healy
2 – Rory Best
3 – Mike Ross
4 – Donncha O’Callaghan
5 – Paul O’Connell (capt)
6 – Stephen Ferris
7 – Sean O’Brien
8 – Jamie Heaslip

16 – Sean Cronin
17 – Tom Court
18 – Donnacha Ryan
19 – Peter O’Mahony
20 – Eoin Reddan
21 – Ronan O’Gara
22 – Fergus McFadden

Here’s a reminder of what happenened when the two sides met this time last year…