Preview: Ireland vs Italy

Ireland will be aiming for a big win against a Sergio Parisse-less Italy in Dublin on Saturday.

The Irish are currently at the top of the Six Nations standings with a points difference of +42, England are next on +21 while Wales and France bring up the rear on +6 and +1 respectively, so a big win this weekend should put Joe Schmidt's side in the box seat going to Paris.

If they manage it, added weight will go on England and Wales on Sunday as they'll know a loss at Twickenham will surely end their title hopes. And in all honesty, should Ireland beat Italy and then France, few would argue they are not worthy champions – and 11/2 underdog ones at that.

Ireland enter the game without arguably their best player so far in 2014, Peter O'Mahony, who is ruled out with an injury and replaced by Iain Henderson. That's the only change to the starting line-up with one other alteration coming on the bench as Eoin Reddan comes in for Isaac Boss. Let's also not forget they're in this solid position without two of their best players, Sean O'Brien and Tommy Bowe, which is some achievement.

It is Italy, though, who are most hurt by absences this week as joining Parisse – who is rested ahead of the England clash – on the sidelines is flank Alessandro Zanni, with Paul Derbyshire coming in at openside and the impressive Joshua Furno moving to blindside from the second row.

Repeating their historic heroics from 12 months ago, when they beat Ireland 22-15 in Rome, is something no one has mentioned since Thursday's team news and with Ireland's luxury of being able to leave two British & Irish Lions wings – in form ones at that – out of their 23, it shows this is a side on an upward curve.

But it will, of course, be a man soon to be moving on who'll be dominating the camera lens over the match day as Brian O'Driscoll wins his 140th Test cap (breaking George Gregan's record of 139) and says goodbye to his supporters.

Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quentin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Subs: 16 David Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommy Allan, 23 Andrea Masi.

Scotland vs France preview

England vs Wales preview

Photo: Tom Shaw/Getty Images

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