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The Ireland XV, winners by a scant ten point differential last year in the Six Nations Championship, state they are looking forward to the mid season clash against England, the only squad to beat them last year. But they will have to start off on the right foot against Italy, this Saturday, February 7 in Rome.
The Irish hold a 19-4 record against Italy, and remember a convincing smashing against the Azzurri in 2014, winning 46-7 in Dublin. In the first fifteen years playing in the Six Nations, Italy are 11-63-1, a fifteen-percent winning record. They have never won the title, and two wins on a few occasions represent the maximum result.
Ireland, a young team, will bring a squad that numbers 16-players without caps. The Irish enjoyed a fantastic autumn test season, defeating Australia 26-23 and also South Africa 29-15 when both games were in Ireland.
Italy played long-time rival Argentina close in Rome but lost by a slim margin. They compete with a more seasoned team of older players including, standouts Serge Parisse and Alessandro Zanni, and they will have eight uncapped players available.
Of note is the game will be played in the Stadio Olimpico, a 70,600-seat arena, home, normally, to the city's two Series A soccer teams, Lazio and A.S. Roma.
The Azzurri usually play in the Stadio Flaminio, currently being enlarged from 25,000 to 35,000 seats. But the Six Nations will demand a larger venue be built to accommodate more fans. The problem is that Rome ("The eternal city"), one of the national team's sponsor, must find suitable space to keep the team from moving north to Genoa. When I visited the Italian Rugby Federation in 2009, my contact explained to me that before you could put a spoon in the historical Roman ground, it required approval from a slew of antiquarian boards and preservation institutions.
Ireland need to continue their successful winning streak, dating back to last year's Six Nation’s title. The Irish are the only major XV that have not advanced into the past seven Rugby World Cup semi-finals. The road to that possibility begins in Italy this weekend.