After a tough workout in Paris, Ireland have had the benefit of a week off and can ease themselves back into action at home to Italy before what could be a make-or-break showdown with England.
But they can’t treat Sunday’s clash in Dublin lightly because head coach Andy Farrell won’t want his troops to run out at Twickenham undercooked, and Italy have to be braced for another stern test.
The Azzurri have already suffered heavy defeats to France and England and this is a tough a start as they could get in their bid to end a 34-match losing streak in the tournament.
Ireland vs Italy Betting Odds
Ireland are inevitably long odds-on to win the match, available at 1/150, and the more interesting market is the match handicap, set at 40 points, four more than Italy were handed for their opener in Paris.
The Azzurri, who are 90/1 to win, stayed within the line that day, as they have on all six occasions they have been given a start of more than 35 points. It’s the biggest handicap Italy have seen since they faced England at Twickenham in 2017 and made the best of a 44-point start in a 36-15 defeat.
There are two sides to a handicap when the line goes that high - can the favourites score enough but also what can the underdogs put on the scoreboard to stay close? And that makes this a fascinating contest between a team who have been scoring freely and one who have been struggling for points.
Since last year’s Six Nations Ireland have found a ruthless edge, passing the 50-point mark against USA, Japan and Argentina, while Italy have failed to reach the 20-point mark in their last 16 games, averaging less than 11 points a game.
Ireland vs Italy Team News
Ulster full-back Michael Lowry is set to make his debut in as head coach Andy Farrell shakes things up for the clash in Dublin.
Joey Carberry remains at fly-half with fit-again Johnny Sexton named on the bench, while Peter O'Mahony captains the side from blindside flanker with James Ryan ruled out with an adductor injury.
Robbie Henshaw returns to partner Garry Ringrose in midfield as James Lowe comes back from a groin injury to take up his spot on the left wing.
Dan Sheehan makes his first senior international start at hooker as one of three changes to the Irish pack with Ryan Baird coming in to join Tadhg Beirne in the second row.
Italy already had a young squad for this year’s tournament and two players will make their Six Nations debuts in Dublin - winger Pierre Bruno and centre Leonardo Marin.
Bennetton duo Marco Zanon and Braam Steyn drop to the bench, with Bordeaux wing Federico Mori losing his spot in the matchday squad.
Ireland vs Italy H2H
Italy recorded a famous win over Ireland in Rome in 2013 but far from being a turning point in their fortunes it was the starting point for a run of heavy defeats, especially in Dublin.
The introduction of bonus points has had an effect but over the last decade Ireland have shaped into a more dangerous attacking team and that is particularly reflected in this fixture.
Up until their Rome defeat Ireland’s seven home matches against Italy brought wins by an average of 21 points, with 3.4 tries scored per game. Since then the average margin in their four wins has been 38 points and the try average has shot up to 7.75 per game.
Ireland vs Italy Prediction
Ireland -39 handicap - BET NOW
A 39-point handicap is a big ask but Ireland are showing a ruthless streak, as are Leinster, who make up the bulk of the side, in Europe.
Four of Ireland’s last five home wins over Italy have been by a margin of 30 to 40 points - a repeat of that is an 11-4 shot. But the Irish have also covered the handicap, ranging from 15 to 33 points, in the last five Dublin encounters and have scored at least 50 points in the last three.
England coach Eddie Jones felt his side could have done better than their 33-0 victory in Rome in round two - Ireland can show them how it’s done by covering that big handicap.
Ireland vs Italy Betting Tips
1. Ireland -39 handicap - BET NOW
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Ireland vs Italy Betting Tips
Ireland vs Italy Frequently Asked Questions
Who is playing?
Ireland vs Italy.A
When is Ireland vs Italy?
Sunday, 27th February at 15:00.A
Where is the match being played?
Aviva Stadium, Dublin.A
Can I watch the match live?
Yes, the match will be shown on ITV.A
What is our recommended bet?
Ireland -39 handicap.A