Six Nations 2021: Italy v Ireland preview, team news & key stats

Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan scores a try against Italy
Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan scored two tries on his debut when the sides last met back in October in a rearranged Six Nations match
Guinness Six Nations: Italy v Ireland
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Saturday, 27 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; watch highlights online.

Ireland face Italy in Rome on Saturday having lost their opening two matches for the first time in Six Nations history.

Head coach Andy Farrell's side have scored a tournament-low two tries in their defeats by Wales and France.

However, Italy are usually ideal fodder to face when a result is needed - it's exactly six years on Sunday since they won a Six Nations match.

The Azzurri have conceded 91 points and 13 tries in their two losses to date.

Ireland make seven changes to the side that lost to France at home two weeks ago.

Captain Johnny Sexton, who this week raised questions about his retirement with a "throwaway comment", returns after a head injury to win his 97th cap but fellow half-back Conor Murray has not recovered from his hamstring issue.

Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong come off the replacements bench to make up an entirely new front row.

Elsewhere in the pack, James Ryan and Will Connors replace Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier, while Tadhg Beirne switches to the back row.

Italy are unchanged from the side that lost to England.

Commentator's notes

Andrew Cotter:external-link The two teams without a win in this year's Six Nations but there the similarities end. Ireland will start as strong favourites and will also have the steadying figure of Johnny Sexton returning at fly-half in an all-Leinster back-line.

It's a chance for Andy Farrell to have a look at some different combinations so there's an all-new front row, while Connors comes in at open-side flanker.

Italy coach Franco Smith has gone for the same 15 which started against England - partly because his options are more limited and also because there were some signs of life in the display at Twickenham.

But encouraging glimpses are all the Azzurri have at the moment and it will require something of a miracle at the Stadio Olimpico if they are to avoid a 30th successive defeat in the Six Nations.

View from both camps

Italy head coach Franco Smith: "We've worked a lot on ourselves, focusing on our game plan. We aim to show the same attitude as in the last match with the aim of taking another step forward."

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell on Sexton's future: "As long as Johnny keeps on giving to Irish rugby, he'll keep putting his foot forward to be in the equation.

"He feels good at this moment in time, his appetite is as strong as ever, he's certainly one of those guys who makes the feeling in the group feel right.

"As long as that appetite stays, I'm sure that we'll keep moving in the right direction regarding that."

Line-ups

Italy: 15-Jacopo Trulla, 14- Luca Sperandio, 13-Ignacio Brex, 12-Carlo Canna, 11-Montanna Ioane, 10-Paolo Garbisi, 9-Stephen Varney; 1-Andrea Lovotti, 2-Luca Bigi (capt), 3-Marco Riccioni, 4-Marco Lazzaroni, 5- David Sisi, 6-Sebastian Negri, 7-Johan Meyer, 8-Michele Lamaro

Replacements: 16-Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17-Cherif Traore, 18-Giosue Zilocchi, 19-Niccolo Cannone, 20- Maxime Mbanda, 21-Callum Bradley, 22-Federico Mori, 23-Mattia Bellini

Ireland: 15-Hugo Keenan, 14-Jordan Larmour, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-James Lowe, 10-Jonathan Sexton (capt), 9-Jamison Gibson-Park; 1-Dave Kilcoyne, 2-Ronan Kelleher, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 4-Iain Henderson, 5-James Ryan, 6-Tadhg Beirne, 7-Will Connors, 8-CJ Stander

Replacements: 16-Rob Herring, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Ryan Baird, 20-Jack Conan, 21-Craig Casey, 22-Billy Burns, 23-Keith Earls

Ireland's Johnny Sexton

Match facts

Head-to-head

  • Italy won three of the first four meetings between 1995-97 but have only won one of the subsequent 28 encounters (L27).
  • Ireland have won 20 of their 21 Six Nations games against Italy - their only loss was a 22-15 defeat in Rome in 2013.
  • Ireland have scored 50 or more points in four of their last five meetings in the Six Nations.

Italy

  • Italy have extended their record losing run in the Six Nations to 29 games. Their last Six Nations win at home was in 2013 against Ireland.
  • They have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of 22 Six Nations games since they were introduced in 2017.
  • Italy have the lowest tackle success rate in this Six Nations (82%) and missed 59 tackles, the most of any side.

Ireland

  • Ireland could lose their opening three matches for the first time since sustaining four defeats and finishing last in 1998.
  • They are the only side with a 100% scrum success rate, winning all 12 on their own feed.
  • Ireland have kicked from hand a tournament-high 76 times.

Match officials

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Touch judges: Mike Adamson (Scotland) & Craig Evans (Wales)

TMO: Romain Poite (France)

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