World Rugby

Guinness Six Nations Round 3: Can Ireland Keep Grand Slam Hopes Alive?

Guinness Six Nations Round 3: Can Ireland Keep Grand Slam Hopes Alive?

Round 3 of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations gets underway in Rome, as world No. 1 Ireland looks to keep its Grand Slam hopes alive against a resurgent Italy.

Feb 24, 2023 by RugbyPass
Guinness Six Nations Round 3: Can Ireland Keep Grand Slam Hopes Alive?

Round 3 of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations gets underway in Rome, as world No. 1 Ireland looks to keep its Grand Slam hopes alive against a resurgent Italy.

The focus then will shift to Cardiff, where two sides in desperate need of a win will do battle, including Steve Borthwick’s England squad, which is looking to back up its second-round victory with a win over Wales.

On Sunday, the lone matchup will be France hosting Scotland, and it looks to be the pick of the weekend, as two of the top performing teams in the competition do battle at the Stade de France.

Italy Vs. Ireland

Team News

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has opted to make a few alterations from the team that won the opening two fixtures.

Most notable among the absentees is captain Jonathan Sexton, who picked up a knock in the victory over France a fortnight ago.

In his place, comes the impressive Ross Byrne, who will look to further cement his position as backup to Sexton heading into the World Cup.

Joining Byrne in the halfbacks is Munster’s Craig Casey, who like Byrne, is making his first Six Nations start. The 23-year-old Casey has shown major improvements this season and edges out the experienced, and in-form, Conor Murray, who starts on the bench.

Other changes see the experienced Bundee Aki come back into the starting lineup ahead of Stuart McCloskey in the final backline change.

In the forward pack, secondrow James Ryan captains the team in Sexton’s absence. Ryan is partnered by Ulster captain Iain Henderson in the second row, while fellow British & Irish Lion Jack Conan gets a rare start in the No. 8 shirt.

Conan’s addition in the backrow sees Caelen Doris wear the No. 6 shirt, with Josh van der Flier once again wearing No. 7. 

In the front row, Ronan Kelleher gets the start at hooker, ahead of the returning Dan Sheehan. 

It is the first time since the last season’s Six Nations that Farrell has had his top two hookers available, giving him a dynamic 1-2 punch in the position.

Finally, promising Munster fly-half Jack Crowley is in line to make his Six Nations debut from the bench.

Speaking ahead of the clash, Farrell was asked if this was the most dangerous Italian team Ireland has faced to date.

“I would agree with that,” Farrell said. “I mean, I thought England squeezed them really well a couple of weeks ago, but they fought hard, didn’t they, in the second half and hung on in there and made it a tough old second half for England. It shows the character they’ve got.

“You’re talking about all those individuals and the flair, etc., that they’ve got, but that’s all because of the systems Kieran’s put in there. The systems, everyone’s accountable on attack. It reminds me a little bit of how Japan plays, where everyone is on their feet, and everyone’s got a responsibility.

“It’s a tough enough place to defend against, isn’t it, when you’ve got 15 guys coming at you the whole time. There’s a reason why space is made for individuals to be able to put their best foot forward. And that’s because of the coaching Kieran’s brought into them.”

For the hosts, head coach Kieran Crowley has made three changes to the side that lost to England at Twickenham.

As expected, first choice fly-half Paolo Garbisi returns to the starting role ahead of Tommaso Allan. 

Montpellier’s Garbisi is one of the most exciting playmakers in European Rugby. While Allan is a solid operator, the 22-year-old Garbisi offers an X-factor that opens the Italian attack.

Crucially, Garbisi’s addition should ease the load on star fullback Ange Capuozzo, who has carried the load for the Azzurri thus far this season.

Elsewhere, Pierre Bruno is restored to the wing, with Tommaso Menoncello moving to inside center, while Simone Ferrari replaces Marco Riccioni at tighthead.

Key Matchup

The battle of the backrows is going to be one of the main spectacles in this weekend’s round of matches.

For Ireland, the backrow is one of the most hotly contested areas in their stacked squad. 

Starting this weekend is the current World Rugby Player of the Year Josh van der Flier, who is joined on the flanks by arguably the front-runner for Player of the Championship in Caelen Doris. 

Completing the backrow is one of the stars from the 2021 Lions series in Jack Conan, who will be looking to force his way back into the first-choice role with a monster performance.

Facing this daunting challenge is a trio capable of becoming one of the best combinations in the game. 

Leading from the front will be openside flanker Michele Lamaro, who already has become a titanic figure for the Azzurri. Seamlessly picking up where Sergio Parisse left off as a world-class leader and player, the 24-year-old looks destined to be a 100-cap player.

Adding the grunt to Lamaro’s panache is Zimbabwean-born Sebsatian Negri, who does the unseen dirty work. Always leading the charge on defense, while being a rock-solid set-piece operator, Negri is the glue that holds the backrow together. 

Finally, the addition of 22-year-old Lorenzo Cannone at No. 8 offers a hard-running and dynamic ball carrier to the unit. 

Breaking his way into the international setup in 2022, Cannone could be the best of the bunch. Plying his trade at URC side Benetton, Cannone clearly has benefitted from playing against some of the best backrow players in the world week in, week out.

How the Italians handle the Irish physicality will go a long way toward keeping them in the fight.


Italy has been one of the real success stories in international rugby over the past 12 months. 

Picking up historic wins over Wales in Cardiff and Australia at home, while pushing France to its limits in Round 1, the Azzurri no longer are the whipping boys of the Six Nations and will pose Ireland with a number of challenges.

Passion and enthusiasm are the backbone of the Italian game. As such, the Azzurri will come out firing, as they always do.

The challenge for them this weekend is the sheer relentlessness and physicality of the Irish game. In particular, on defense.

Ranked No. 1 in the world for a reason, Ireland’s dominant win over France in Round 2 follows on from a series victory in New Zealand and hard fought wins over Australia and South Africa in November.

Having now beaten every Tier 1 rugby nation under head coach Andy Farrell, Ireland looks every bit like Grand Slam and World Cup contenders this season.

In the forward pack, Ireland is missing a number of star players. Most notably, Tadhg Furlong and Tadhg Beirne.

While both players are world-class, their replacements, Finlay Bealham and Iain Henderson, are no slouches. 

Bealham, in particular, has been one of the finds of the tournament, with his sublime performances putting to rest fears that Ireland lacks depth at the tighthead position.

Henderson, on the other hand, is a highly experienced operator, having played for the British & Irish Lions, as well as captaining Ulster. While not quite the poaching threat of Beirne, Henderson’s bulk will only add to the Irish physicality.

Ireland’s physicality will pose the Italians with challenges they have yet to face. Having done so well against a highly touted French side, the Italians still will believe they can challenge the Irish this weekend.

With their newfound sense of attacking ambition, Italy certainly will have its chances against Ireland. The issue for will be that Ireland has seen it all and will no doubt absorb the pressure, before landing shots of their own.

Dealing with the pace and physicality of the Irish forwards will be a step too far for this Azzurri side.

Once Ireland starts getting over the gain line, the game likely will open up for the visitors, who have scored an average of 45 points in the last 10 meetings between the two sides.

Thus, while the Azzurri have improved, this clash is a level up from any team they have faced since their shellacking at the hands of the Springboks in November.

Ireland will head to Rome knowing that tougher challenges await over the next two rounds and that sealing a winning bonus point is non-negotiable.

Therefore, Ireland will get off to a hot start, before weathering a brief Italian storm midway through the second half to run away with a 25-point win. 

Written by Philip Bendon