Italy v Ireland: Visitors may struggle to pull off big win in Rome

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton
Andy Farrell has captain Johnny Sexton available again for the Italy match

Ireland are under pressure after losing their first two Six Nations games and Simon Mail thinks there is no guarantee of them covering the handicap in Italy...

"Two of the last three meetings have been decided by no more than 19 points so it is hard to have confidence in Ireland covering the handicap in Rome."

Italy v Ireland
Saturday, 14:15
Live on ITV

Ireland under pressure after opening defeats

Ireland's Six Nations title hopes are already over after a disappointing start to this year's campaign. Andy Farrell is under pressure after his side lost their opening two matches. Despite having plenty of possession, Ireland's lack of cutting edge and their discipline has proved costly against both Wales and France.

In their opener, Ireland looked in control against Wales but the sending off of Peter O'Mahony was the turning point.

It was the team's first red card in the Six Nations and the extra man proved crucial as Wales edged to a 21-16 win.

Ireland were again competitive at home to France but their inability to turn possession into points was their undoing. Tries from Charles Ollivon and winger Damian Penaud were enough to give France a 15-13 victory and continue Ireland's frustrating start.

Johnny Sexton is fit to return to lead Ireland with the fly-half recovering from his head knock. Sexton is one of seven changes from the team beaten in Dublin. Jamison Gibson-Park again starts with scrum-half Conor Murray still unavailable. Jordan Larmour comes in on the wing in place of Keith Earls while Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong form a new front row for Ireland.

Italy bidding to end losing run

Italy have lost their opening two matches which has extended their miserable run of defeats in the competition to 29. Franco Smith's side were thrashed 50-10 at home to France in the first game as they were ruthlessly punished for their mistakes. Italy scored twice at Twickenham but were still comfortably beaten as champions England won 41-18.

Smith has named an unchanged team as he continues to put his faith in developing his young players. Half-backs Paolo Garbisi and Stephen Varney have a combined age of 39 but their potential warrants spots in the backline. Monty Ioane continues on the wing after scoring his first try for Italy in the defeat to England.

Ireland have won their last ten games against Italy and are understandably considered bankers to extend this run. The handicap mark is 22 points and this is far from given. Two of the last three meetings have been decided by no more than 19 points so it is hard to have confidence in Ireland covering the handicap in Rome.

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Stander and Keenan backed to score for Ireland

Ireland should still create enough scoring opportunities to win comfortably and two players look worth backing to cross the line in Italy.

CJ Stander has scored 11 tries for Ireland and five of them have come against this weekend's opponents. The powerful forward scored a hat-trick in Italy in 2017 and will be relishing facing them again.

With five tries in four matches against Italy, odds of 23/10 on another this weekend appear generous.

Hugo Keenan made an impressive debut for Ireland in last year's Six Nations win over Italy and is 6/4 to score this weekend. The full-back crossed the line twice in the delayed October match and will have plenty of recent positive memories to fall back on. Keenan should get enough openings to score against an Italy side that have conceded 13 tries in their first two matches.

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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