Paolo Garbisi knows Italy face a tough task against Ireland

By Sports Desk February 10, 2024

Fly-half Paolo Garbisi believes Italy are ready for the “most difficult match in world rugby” and expects facing Ireland to be twice as tough as taking on England.

The Azzurri meet the reigning Guinness Six Nations champions in Dublin on Sunday after beginning their campaign with a narrow 27-24 loss to Steve Borthwick’s side in Rome.

Ireland are overwhelming favourites for victory at a sold-out Aviva Stadium to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles following a five-try demolition of France.

Montpellier man Garbisi, who acknowledges his country have been underdogs in almost every match since joining the championship in 2000, is braced for the ultimate test.

“Of course we were pretty proud of our performance (against England),” he told the PA news agency.

“We knew that that wasn’t perfect, otherwise probably we would have won that game, so a lot of points to improve on and to work on.

“But we know that this week is going to be probably twice harder. We know what’s coming and I think we’re ready.

“I think it’s the most difficult match in world rugby right now. We play one of the best sides at their place.

“It’s the first time they play at home in this Six Nations so it’s probably the most difficult thing to do in rugby this time.”

Italy have never won a Six Nations match on Irish soil, with their only championship success in the fixture a 22-15 Stadio Olimpico victory in 2013.

Pundits and bookmakers give the Azzurri, who endured a miserable World Cup campaign before Gonzalo Quesada replaced Kieran Crowley as head coach, little chance of changing that statistic this weekend.

“We try not to put that much attention on those things,” said Garbisi.

“I think it’s 20 years that people don’t give us chances so we don’t really care about that. We try to prepare as well as we can so we can perform as well as we can.

“We know that they’re very good in everything they do: attack, defence, kicking game. But I think what impressed me the most are the rucks, how they can reach the rucks to slow the ball down for the opposition – that’s something they’re really good at.

“If we can keep the pace of our breakdowns quick, we could manage to put them in trouble.”

Garbisi will be pitted against rival number 10 Jack Crowley this weekend after former Ireland captain Johnny Sexton retired following the World Cup.

The 23-year-old feels the departure of the influential Sexton has left a void but thinks 24-year-old Crowley has a “very, very bright future”.

“It’s quite a difference because the leadership that Sexton could provide to their team was amazing,” said Garbisi.

“I think it was a different team when he was playing and when he was not.

“Crowley is a very good number 10 and he’s quite young – I think he’s my age – so I think he has a very, very bright future to lead Ireland forward.”

Italy have lost back-row forwards Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone to injury but mercurial full-back Ange Capuozzo is back from illness.

“We hope he’s going to make a big difference for us,” Garbisi said of Capuozzo.

“But it’s not only on him, it’s on us as well to try to give him good balls to attack and to put him in good spaces where he can have one on ones against defenders so he can use his feet and his quickness.”

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