Whatever about the fan experience Ireland’s Tomas O Leary reckons this weekend’s away Six Nations opener will be anything but a Roman Holiday.
Ireland kick off their 2011 RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign when they visit Rome to take on Italy.
It’s the last meeting between the sides before October’s final World Cup Pool C clash in Dunedin, when they are expected to be fighting it out for a quarter final place alongside Pool favourites Australia.
For now though, it’s all about the championship opener at the Stadio Flaminio. Ireland have dominated this fixture, winning on all 11 occasions since the Azzurri were admitted to the 6 Nations in the year 2000.
The Ireland team to play Italy in Rome this Saturday in the opening game of the 2011 RBS 6 Nations Championship contains one new cap and nine changes to the side from the game against Argentina last November.
Fergus McFadden will win his first cap for Ireland and is selected on the right wing and will play in a new combination back three with Keith Earls picked on the left wing and Luke Fitzgerald being chosen at full back for Ireland for the first time. The final change to the backline sees Tomas O’Leary come into the scrumhalf position after missing all of the Guinness Series in November due to injury.
In the pack, Rory Best returns to the side at hooker with Mike Ross earning his first start in the championship at tight head prop. Paul O’Connell is another who returns to the team to earn his 71st cap in the second row.
The back row is also a new combination at international level with Denis Leamy selected alongside David Wallace and Sean O’Brien, who earns his first RBS 6 Nations start for Ireland.
Ireland Team (to play Italy, RBS 6 Nations Championship, Stadio Flaminio, Rome on Saturday, February 5th, 15:30)
15 – Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster)
14 – Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
13 – Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) Captain
12 – Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
11 – Keith Earls (Thomond/Munster)
10 – Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
9 – Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster)
1 – Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
2 – Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
3 – Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4 – Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster)
5 – Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster)
6 – Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)
7 – David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster)
8 – Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster)
16 – Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht)
17 – Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
18 – Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster)
19 – Shane Jennings (St.Mary’s College/Leinster)
20 – Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
21 – Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster)
22 – Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster)
However, Declan Kidney’s preparations have been disrupted by injury with Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, John Hayes and Jamie Heaslip among those ruled out.
Heaslip and Tomas O’Leary were Ireland’s try scorers when the sides met at Croke Park last year and along with out half Jonathan Sexton and injured hooker Jerry Flannery, they have been assessing Ireland’s prospects for the game……