Six Nations

Ireland wary of Parisse

2015-02-06 19:56
Sergio Parisse (AFP)

Rome - Ireland captain Paul O'Connell has warned of the danger of Italy counterpart Sergio Parisse but said the defending champions are ready for their opening Six Nations clash in Rome on Saturday.

Ireland have been forced to make several changes to the side that won last year's title, with Brian O'Driscoll (retired), Andrew Trimble, Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Dave Kearney all missing from the squad.

Although Ireland proved there was life after 'BOD' by winning all three of their recent November Tests, including victories over South Africa (29-15) and Australia (26-23), Rome has has not a happy hunting ground for the Irish.

Italy beat the Irish for the first time (22-15) at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013 and two years earlier only a last-gasp drop goal from Ronan O'Gara saw the visitors home and dry by 13-11 at the Stadio Flaminio.

O'Connell admits the enforced absences in the squad, and the introduction of new faces like fly-half Ian Keatley and Jordi Murphy has led to a slightly "different vibe" in the dressing room.

But O'Connel said the return of Sean O'Brien to the starting XV, the British and Irish Lions flanker replacing the injured Jamie Heaslip (shoulder), has added a welcome boost.

Parisse claimed earlier the hosts are ready to "spit blood" in a bid to secure their second successive Stadio Olimpico win over Ireland.

But O'Connell said Friday: "Since we came into camp in Christmas we've only focused on Italy.

"So the more you look at Italy the more you see of how Sergio Parisse plays. And the more you look at Italy the more you see of him. He's an incredible player, and one of the best in the world; he was a World Player of the Year and rightly so."

O'Connell described O'Brien's return after 14 months on the injury sidelines as "excellent".

"It's excellent to have him back" he said. "I'm sure he's going to be really enthusiastic to take on a big workload as he always is, he's a fantastic ball-carrier, a fantastic tackler, very good on the ground as well.

"I think it's important that we take that workload off him and let him find his way into the game as well."

Italy finished with the wooden spoon last year and approach this year's tournament with only one win, against Samoa, to boast of in 11 games.

That series included a humbling 46-7 by Ireland in Dublin, and on paper Joe Schmidt's men, now ranked third in the world, have the upper hand.

But as the Irish know only too well, facing the Italians in Italy is tough.

"One of the big things is that Italy tend to be very good here in Rome," added O'Connell. "I think they really play to their potential here."

Parisse pledged the Azzurri will use grit and determination in a bid to secure a second successive win over them.

"They (Ireland) have a lot of qualities, but tactically we've prepared for this in the right way," Parisse said Friday.

"If they (Ireland) play at only 70% (capacity), for sure they will lose. But we have to give it 110%.

"You will see that all 23 of us are ready to spit blood to win this match."

Italy coach Jacques Brunel, who will step down after the 2015 World Cup later this year when his side face Ireland and France in Group D, has called on the hosts to make the most of their three home games at the Stadio Olimpico.

"We owe it to ourselves to win at home. I'm convinced we're not that far off the other big nations," Brunel said.

"This first match will give us an idea of how we stand. It won't be the easiest because the Irish are favourites, they're confident, and they won almost everything last year.

"We're hoping they won't be at their very best in their first game of the tournament.

"But for us to win, we need 100 percent precision and 100 percent efficiency. We can't afford to be at 70 of 80 percent."


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