When Ireland take on Italy at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday they will do so with a brand new combination in place at the back.
Leinster’s Fergus McFadden makes his debut on one wing, while Luke Fitzgerald sees his first start at fullback. In comparison, Keith Earls, with 13 caps to his name, will be treated as a seasoned campaigner on the other wing as Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney, Geordan Murphy, and Shane Horgan are all missing through injury.
The now customary Leinster trio of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, and Jonathan Sexton, who are the centres and fly-half respectively, will be relishing the chance to carve open the Italy defence and either take the points for themselves or set up the wingers and fullback.
Italy in comparison have again switched their seemingly ever changing backline, with Kris Burton taking up the problem position of fly-half and Edoardo Gori wins just his third cap as the scrum-half is brought into the line-up.
There had been earlier worries that Italy captain Sergio Parisse would miss his side’s first match of the 2011 championships due to a finger injury, however, having missed all of last year’s matches due to a knee injury, the 27 year old Argentinian born number eight could not be kept out of this showdown as Italy look to win their opening match of the tournament since 2003.
Ireland have never lost to Italy however they have won just two of the last seven matches which they have played.
Ireland: L Fitzgerald (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, captain), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), T O’Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster).
Italy: L McLean; A Masi, G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco; K Burton, E Gori; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni; S Dellape, Q Geldenhuys; J Sole, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).
Replacements: F Ongaro, A Lo Cicero, C del Fava, V Bernabo, P Canavosio, L Orquera, G Garcia.