Six Nations: Ireland make four changes in pack for Italy

Sean Cronin of Ireland
Sean Cronin has played in 67 Tests for Ireland but has never started a Six Nations game
Six Nations: Italy v Ireland
Venue: Stadio Olimpico Date: Sunday, 24 February Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Commentary on 5 live Sports Extra and Radio Ulster; live text on BBC Sport website and Sport app

Ireland have made four changes to their pack but retain the same backline for Sunday's Six Nations game in Italy.

Captain Rory Best is rested so Sean Cronin takes over as hooker and Dave Kilcoyne starts at loose-head prop.

Lock Ultan Dillane is given a first start in the competition, while Jordi Murphy comes into the back row and Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson returns to the bench.

Ireland are fourth in the table after losing to England and beating Scotland.

They host France on 10 March and play Wales away six days later.

Italy are bottom and without a point after their defeats by Scotland and Wales.

The game in Rome will be Cronin's first Six Nations start after 32 appearances off the bench.

Second row Henderson is set to make his first appearance of the championship having missed the first two rounds through injury, but there is no place for Munster's Tadhg Beirne who also returned to fitness this week.

Cian Healy, James Ryan and Jack Conan are rested entirely as coach Joe Schmidt tests his squad depth before the World Cup later this year.

Ireland hoping to build momentum

Schmidt will be keen to see his team build on the 22-13 away win over the Scots two weeks ago.

Star fly-half Johnny Sexton trained with the squad all week and is fit to start having been taken off in the first half against Scotland while Joey Carbery is not risked after picking up a hamstring injury in training.

"It would have been too great a risk for him (Carbery) to feature," said Schmidt on Friday.

"We probably would have started Johnny anyway to be honest. He's had one game and 23 minutes since the Munster game. He's had very little game time.

"And Joey has had a lot of game time and played the bulk of the game in Edinburgh."

So uncapped Connacht number 10 Jack Carty is instead rewarded for his fine season by being named as a replacement.

Munster's Andrew Conway provides cover for the backs with the injured Jordan Larmour dropping out of the matchday squad.

Schmidt has opted not to recall Robbie Henshaw, a starter at full-back against England, after he missed the Scotland game through injury.

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Farrell ready to grab Ireland centre chance

Ex-Ireland U20 McKinley on Italy bench

Italy will be without captain Sergio Parisse after the back-row picked up a concussion player for Stade Francais last weekend.

Tito Tebaldi will partner Benetton teammate Tommaso Allan in the half-backs while Dublin-born Ian McKinley is named among the replacements.

McKinley, an Irish under-20 international, retired from rugby in 2011 after losing sight in his left eye following a freak injury.

Since moving to Italy in 2013 the fly-half has restarted his career and made his Six Nations debut against Scotland on the first weekend of this year's championship.

Ireland: Kearney; Earls, Farrell, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Kilcoyne, Cronin, Furlong, Dillane, Roux, O'Mahony (capt), O'Brien, Murphy.

Replacements: N Scannell, J McGrath, John Ryan, Henderson, van der Flier, Cooney, Carty, Conway.

Italy: Hayward; Padovani, Campagnaro, Morisi, Esposito; Allan, Tebaldi; Lovotti, Ghiraldini (capt), Ferari, Russa, Budd, Tuivaiti, Mbanda, Steyn.

Replacements: Bigi, Traore, Pasquali, Sisi, Zanni, Palazzini, McKinley, Castello.

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