The Italy captain, Sergio Parisse, has praised Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll as one of the greatest centres in the history of the sport, ahead of today’s Six Nations game at the Stadio Olimpico.
O’Driscoll will be playing his 60th and potentially final match of the championship with his future beyond his likely presence on the Lions’ summer tour to Australia, yet to be decided. The 34-year-old passed concussion protocols to take his place in Ireland’s starting XV in what will be his last match in Rome.
“When you talk about Ireland and rugby, you can’t not talk about Brian O’Driscoll,” Parisse said. “He’s one of the best centres in the history of the game. This will be his final match in Rome and he will want to finish with a win.
“I wish him luck in the rest of his life, but he has done many things for Ireland and rugby. For me when I think about a centre, I think about Brian O’Driscoll over all the rest.”
Both Italy and Ireland could finish the Six Nations as high as third place or as low as bottom, with events in Paris, where France host Scotland, shaping their final position.
Jamie Heaslip has urged Ireland to finish the Six Nations in the same way it began – with a try-scoring flourish.Six weeks ago, they opened the tournament with a 30-22 win over Wales in Cardiff, establishing a 30-3 lead with a clinical three-try flurry. But an injury crisis and inability to capitalise on winning positions has reduced them to playing for pride on the final weekend.
“I would love it if we came out this weekend with all guns blazing,” Heaslip, the Ireland captain, said.
Ireland’s plans for the match were disrupted yesterday with fly-half Jonathan Sexton’s ankle injury forcing coach Declan Kidney to bring Ulster’s Paddy Jackson into the starting XV. The injury casts doubt on a possible Lions tour place for Sexton.
* ITALY: A Masi (Wasps); G Venditti (Zebre), G Canale (La Rochelle), G Garcia (Zebre), L McLean (Treviso); L Orquera (Zebre), E Gori (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini (both Treviso), Q Geldenhuys (Zebre), J Furno (Narbonne), A Zanni, S Favaro (both Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Français; capt).
Replacements: D Giazzon (Zebre), M Rizzo, A De Marchi, A Pavanello, F Minto, P Derbyshire, T Botes, T Benvenuti (all Treviso).
* IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D Ryan, P O’Mahony (both Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster; capt).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne, S Archer (both Munster), D Toner (Leinster), I Henderson, P Marshall (both Ulster), I Madigan, L Fitzgerald (both Leinster).
Referee W Barnes (Eng). TV BBC 1, 2.30pm.