Ireland v Italy: Three things to watch at Aviva Stadium tomorrow
With the Six Nations championship still well within our grasp, beating Italy on Saturday is a must. Here's a few things to keep an eye on while watching the game.
Man child on the loose
It's not every day you manage to get a Nenah Cherry video into a rugby preview but here you go.
The only change to Joe Schmidt's starting XV was an enforced one, as Iain Henderson steps into Peter O'Mahony's very big shoes. The Munster man has arguably been the Irish player of the tournament so far so the Ulster flanker has a huge job on his hands. But as provincial team-mate Andrew Trimble said this week, Henderson is a fearsome operator himself.
"He's the man-child, he's got mutant strength for a 22-year-old," said Trimble. To be honest that description scares the crap out of us and we assume it will do the same to the Italians. Henderson's versatility - we can expect to see him in the second row at some point according to Schmidt - and his ability means he could be a future star for Ireland for many years to come.
It will only be his second start on Saturday but against a weakened Italy he should get ample opportunity to show what he can do in the scrums, lineouts and in open play. We're expecting big things.
What are Italy playing at?
Ireland would have been favourites for this game anyway but the rather odd Italian selection means that Ireland are 1/50 to win the game with Ladbrokes, with the handicap at 25 points. Italy coach Jacques Brunel has decided to rest his best player, Sergio Parisse, in a bid to help him recover from a calf injury in time to play England in the final round.
Not only does it rob the crowd in Aviva Stadium the chance to see one of the greats of the game, it also robs Italy of their most fearsome force around the pitch. But that is not the only selection puzzle. A brand new nine-ten axis of Tito Tebaldi and Luciano Orquera have also been selected and when you add in the absence of flanker Alessandro Zanni through injury, this is undoubtedly a weakened Italy side.
Last year Ireland lost 22-15 to Italy to end a miserable Six Nations campaign. We expect to see a full blooded revenge mission executed by Ireland against this Azzurri selection.
Bye-bye BOD man
You may have heard but this is Brian O'Driscoll's final game in green in Dublin. Tributes, from hotels to memes, have been pouring in all week and no matter how cool the great man claims to be, there will have to be some strong emotions running through his veins tomorrow.
We're 100 per cent confident it won't impinge on how he plays (playing 140 Tests will guarantee that) but he will surely be hoping to sign off on a high. Based on the two teams, Ireland should win but what would be the ideal send off would be a try or two for the greatest ever 13 to play the game. Can we hope for that? We think so.
Perhaps the highlight of tomorrow will be at the final whistle, as BOD will surely do a lap of honour for the fans at the stadium. We don't know about you, but we might just get a little emotional ourselves. Expect to see a lot of grown men cry at about 4.30 tomorrow.
Don't forget, when you are watching the game, check out
So while you are doing that check out the folks at the Aviva Fan Studio. The Fan Studio will be live pre-match, half time and after the match for alternative analysis and views on the game.
Hosted by Aidan Power, who will be joined by David Wallace, Fiona Steed and our own Eric Lalor for the game, fan interaction is a huge part of what they do and Daniella Moyles will be soliciting the views of the fans in the stadium too. Lots of lucky fans will be in the studio to have their say on the game but you can too by logging onto the Aviva Stadium Facebook page or by tweeting using the hashtags '#AvivaFanStudio' '#IRLvITA'