Although it was Mark Twain who popularised the famous line “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, he always maintained it was Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase.
Conversely, there are literary academics who insist the credit really belongs to Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one suspects that despite his background as a teacher, Irish coach Declan Kidney will not have spent too much time in the past few days worrying about the identity of the man who first uttered those words.
Kidney has had more on his mind than literary trivia, with his priority at this stage being to ensure Ireland’s Six Nations winning habit in matches against Italy continues.
In a five-match series there is little scope for recovery if things go wrong in the early stages and that fact minimises the margin for error. Therefore, a good start is all-important.
To that extent the fixture list has been kind to Ireland.
If, as has been the case this time, injuries rob you of big players, best that your opening encounter is against opponents who have finished bottom of the table in eight of the 11 seasons of the Six Nations’ existence.
“Start with a win,” is the mantra of the man whose charges are on offer at 11/4 to win the Championship, 11/4 — like England — to win the Triple Crown and 1/10 to beat Italy tomorrow afternoon.
With an Italian victory on offer at 11/2, clearly the bookies do not have too many doubts, Ireland’s injuries notwithstanding.
Those bookmakers seldom get it wrong and certainly Kidney will be hoping February 5, 2011 does not prove to be one of those rare occasions.
History weighs heavily in Ireland’s favour, their Six Nations record against the Italians being played 11, won 11, scored 377 points, conceded 156.
In 2000 they trounced the Azzurri 60-13 in Dublin, their highest-ever score in the Six Nations and their widest-ever winning margin. The Rome 2001 joust finished 41-22.
Twelve months later at Lansdowne Road Ireland were 32-17 winners. The trip to Italy in 2003 yielded a handsome 37-13 victory. In 2004 Ireland won again in Dublin where the score was 19-3.
They opened their 2005 Championship account with a 28-17 win and then kicked off the 2006 campaign with a 26-16 home triumph. In 2007 Ireland clocked up another half-century of points against Italy, this time in Rome where the score was 51-24.
In 2008 the Italians were at Croke Park where, despite outscoring their hosts by two tries to one, they lost 16-11.
Ireland’s long-waited Grand Slam, finally achieved in 2009, included a 38-9 away day win in the second of the five matches.
Twelve months ago — again at Croke Park — the hosts won 29-11.
Those statistics are neither lies nor damned lies — they are undisputed facts.
Thus, while they would never be so arrogant as to say it in public, privately Ireland expect to win, even with a dozen of their players sidelined.
The truth is that with their Six Nations record against Italy being 100 per cent it would indeed be a major upset if Ireland were to lose.
Hooker Rory Best is diplomacy personified in calling the Italians “fiercely proud, physically very strong and always dangerous opponents”.
“When you come off the pitch after playing against any Italian side you certainly know you have been in a game,” he says.
Be that as it may, even with injuries having forced them to make nine changes, Ireland should win.
And the fact that, in such circumstances, they continue to look so strong underlines the work that has been done in building their squad.