SOMETIMES reality bites hardest when it’s written in black and white.
I think it is fair to presume at this point that everyone appreciates Italy's structures aren't near being able to meet the level that Six Nations rugby is currently demanding.
Since joining the Six Nations in 2000, they have come last 16 times and have never bettered fourth in the table, which they achieved in 2007 and 2013. The last game they won was against Scotland seven years ago and unless Andy Farrell requests that his players play this third-round game blindfolded and with one arm tied behind their backs, the Azzurri’s record-breaking run of losses will be extended to 35 on Sunday afternoon.
Italy’s last game was at home to England, and they were so bad they are lucky points in rugby are not deducted for appalling play. They were so sloppy at times it seemed as if some of the players were struggling to comprehend the rules.
Nobody can ever question the Italians' passion but their continued participation in the Six Nations is as worthwhile as a Mini Cooper partaking in an F1 title race.
Reports of South Africa joining the tournament in 2025 have been doing the rounds, but like everything in professional sport, it will all come down to revenue. If there was a chance that Outer Mongolia could create bigger profits, they'd be in the mix to join the Six Nations.
To make matters worse for Italy and their new coach Kieran Crowley, their squad has been decimated with injuries and they now have 13 unavailable players. The is not if Ireland will win but by how much?
Apart from Rónan Kelleher’s unavailability due to injury, Andy Farrell and his coaching ticket have an embarrassment of riches to select from. He could easily pick three different squads that would comprehensively blow Italy off the park.
I appreciate that Ireland's next game is against England on March 12 and that it is important to retain a respectable level of cohesiveness. However, there is also an immense need for Farrell to show his faith in his extended panel.
It isn’t that often that you can be assured of a favorable result in international rugby and this is why the following players must be afforded a start in this game.
Dan Sheehan is the latest to roll off the Leinster conveyor belt and with Kelleher’s absence already confirmed, Sheehan will be penciled in to fill the gap between Furlong and Porter. I would actually also start Finlay Bealham in this game and give Furlong the day off.
Jamison Gibson-Park is unquestionably Ireland's main ball-distributer now, but with Conor Murray approaching his sell-by-date, Casey must now be given as many international minutes as possible if he is to be ready for when the 2023 World Cup comes calling.
A fit-again Johnny Sexton will be bullish for a start so he can add to his 102 caps, but if he has his sights set on making it to the World Cup next year, he should really be shelved and labeled under the section 'do not touch until the commencement of the 2023 Six Nations'.
Connacht’s Jack Carty for me is Ireland's second-best fly-half and fully deserves a start.
Week after week he almost single-handedly keeps Connacht in the hunt in every game and I would love to see him play with a pack of forwards that can feed him a constant supply of quality ball.
Joey Carbery did fine against France two weeks ago but, fine is nowhere good enough on a side that aspires of competing with the best on a regular basis. I just have no confidence in his mental ability to deal with pressure at the highest level.
Ulster’s Iain Henderson may also be promoted from the bench to a starting birth in the second row which could see Tadhg Beirne starting in the backrow or on the bench, but apart from that, I don’t think Farrell and co will have the courage to make many more changes to the side that lost against France.
Anything other than a four-try bonus point trouncing will not be acceptable on Sunday afternoon and do not be surprised if Ireland push well beyond a 50-point margin of victory.