Ireland name side to play Italy

Ireland Rugby coach Eddie O'Sullivan has named his side to play against Italy in the opening game of the six nations on Saturday. Its a strong selection with the main changes from previous years being David Wallace regaining a starting position, Jerry Flannery starting at hooker and Ulsterman and former Monaghan Gaelic footballer Tommy Bowe playing on the wing.

Despite a disappointing Autumn International series, there seems to be an increased optimism about Ireland's chances, probably due to the marvellous perfromances of both Leinster and Munster in the Heineken Cup a fortnight ago. These sides make up the bulk of the Irish side with 4 from Leinster and 8 from Munster starting.

2006 could well be "now or never" for this Irish side. 2005 promised so much but delievered so little and if nothing is achieved in 2006, Eddie O'Sullivan could be under pressure. Unlike against Australia and New Zealand, Ireland have the majority of their players fit, including the crucial men in both the backs and forwards i.e. Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.

A convincing victory will be expected on Sunday but its the trips to London and Paris that will define Ireland's season. The best of luck to them. For a more expert analysis of the campaign, you can always try the Irish blogosphere's resident rugby expert, Gerry O'Sullivan.

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