PREVIEW: Andy Farrell will be out to test his squad depth when Ireland host Italy in the World Cup warm-up match in Dublin.
Farrell will cut his 42-man squad down to a final 33 following further fixtures against England and Samoa.
The Grand Slam boss wants a full complement of players fit and firing moving towards the tournament in France.
“We are at a stage where we are all gagging for a game,” he said.
“And you are judging constantly how preparation is going and trying to balance that out with a side that has got the experience and youth.
“I’m 100 percent sure there are some individuals that will take the field saying to themselves that ‘this a big chance and big opportunity for me’.
“I wouldn’t say we are experimenting. You win World Cups because of the strength of your squad so we are trying to find out about people that have done so well to get picked in the initial 42 and now they have got the opportunity to represent the group.
“They know the expectation of how we want to play and what is acceptable and what’s not.”
Finding a pivot
Johnny Sexton’s three-match ban has opened the door for rookie number 10s Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley and Ross Byrne to gain some much-needed Test experience during the next month.
In-form Crowley is the first to be handed an opportunity to impress, having starred during his province’s United Rugby Championship success at the end of last season. “He has been excellent but how that transfers into a performance is different,”
“The minute that selection comes, it’s a different week as far as managing the team and being the main general as far as Jack is concerned. We have been keeping a close eye on that and he has been excellent so far.”
Sign off in style
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley would want to sign off his tenure as Azzurri boss on a positive note and would want to put in some big upsets leading to the World Cup.
Italy have been grouped with France and New Zealand at next month’s World Cup
At the back of a 13-25 to Scotland, Italy would want to bounce back and boost their confidence.
“The match against Ireland will be a new, important test in preparation for the World Cup,” he told the Italian Rugby Federation’s website.
“Other players will have the chance to play a top-level international Test match facing the world’s first-ranked team. The focus will be on our performance.”
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Iain Henderson has to put up his hand as a leader as he captains the side for the second time. The Ulster man will win his 73rd Test cap in the green, partnering Joe McCarthy in the Ireland second row. The all-Leinster back row of Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris and Jack Conan will have to be in top shape and they will work hard at the breakdowns. Flyhalf Jack Crowley has lots of pressure on him as he will pivot the team. Crowley played an integral role in Munster’s success in last season’s United Rugby Championship. He will have his Munster halfback partner Craig Casey as scrumhalf.
For Italy: Former England Under-20 internationals Wing Paolo Odogwu and lock Dino Lamb will make their debut in the starting lineup. The pair qualified for Italy through their families. The wing Odogwu can be a major threat when given space. Monty Ioane, who returns to the international fold after a long hiatus, will be eager to book his spot in the Italy World Cup team. He is a world-class wing and is lethal on the attack. In the pack, Sebastian Negri on the blindside flank is an amazing ball carrier. He has the abitly to impose himself and can be nuances at the breakdowns.
Head to head:
Ireland by 20 points.
Ireland: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Caelan Doris, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Iain Henderson (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 David Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Cian Prendergast, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Ciaran Frawley, 23 Calvin Nash.
Italy: 15 Tommaso Allan, 14 Paolo Odogwu, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza (captain), 4 Dino Lamb, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Michele Lamaro, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Lorenzo Pani.
Date: Saturday, August 5
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 20.00 (21.00 Italy time; 19.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be rainy with a high of 16°C and a low of 9°C with a moderate breeze.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)