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Mauro Bergamasco training yesterday
Dan Sheridan
The Mama Of All Battles ??
2 February 2010, 10:38 am
By Chris Byrne
The advertisement on the bottom of today's Irish Times Sports Weekend urges us to 'expect the mamma of all battles' today when Ireland and Italy clash in the opening RBS Six Nations game at Croke Park.
But happily that paper's rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley, offers the much more credible opinion that, 'it will be an arm wrestle for a half or more, and that Ireland will first roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty with the Azzurri before eventually showing their much sharper cutting edge."

So with all due respects to the marketing geniuses who spent hours possibly days dreaming up their advertising strapline, Thornley's article headline, 'Ireland's opener looks a routine job', offers a much more realistic one-liner assessment. But then of course, to each his own.

There is little doubt that the Italians will bring their customary ferocious physicality to the game and the aches and pains the Ireland players go home with this evening will be just as as stinging as anything they'll receive in the coming weeks. But the fact is the Italians arrive without the outstanding Sergio Parisse, a totally untried and untested half-back pairing in Tito Tebaldi and Craig Gower, a pack that includes just three players in their pack, Mauro Bergamasco, Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini who play, again with all due respects to Treviso, at the highest club level.

On an individual head-to-head Ireland come out on top in almost every position. Yes there will be questions marks. It's Jerry Flannery's first back after a long lay off, Cian Healy faces a huge test but the evidence is he's well up to it, Leo Cullen has huge boots to fill deputising for the injured Donncha O'Callaghan but the Leinster man rarely lets anyone down and there's a first start for Kevin McLaughlin.

But once the Ireland pack absorb the initial Italian onslaught, once they get, to use the phrase so loved by the previous Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, their ducks in a row, then they have the wherewithal out wide to do a serious wrecking job.

'The Mama of all Battles' ? Hardly. That will come in a week's time.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll capt, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; C Healy, J Flannery, J Hayes; L Cullen, P O'Connell; K McLaughin, D Wallace, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Best, T Court, D Ryan, S O'Brien, E Reddan, P Wallace, K Earls.

Italy: L McLean; K Robertson, M Bergamasco, G Canale, G Garcia; C Gower, T Tebaldi; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni; C Antonio Del Fava, Q Geldenhuys; J Sole, M Bergamasco, A Zanni. Replacements: F Ongaro, M Aguero, M Bortolami, P Derbyshire, S Piccone, R Bocchino, A Masi.

Referee: Romain Poite (Fr).

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