Grand Slam champions Ireland set for a grand performance
In last year's Six Nations Ireland were immense as they coped under the pressure to win their first Grand Slam since 1948. They enter this year's championships as the second favourites at 9/4 to win the tournament and are priced at 6/1 to repeat the Grand Slam.
However, no side has achieved consecutive Slams since France in 1997 and 1998. Ireland have been given a dream start this year though as they face the cannon fodder of Italy at Croke Park.
Ireland's chances are shown in the match betting as you can get 1/40 about a home win and quite honestly it should be as easy as it first appears for the Boys in Green, as another victory against Italy will be their 14th in a row.
Declan Kidney has picked a team full of his stars and despite an initial concern about captain Brian O'Drsicoll's fitness the Leinster man will once again lead his country in to battle. The captain is joined in the centres by his club colleague Gordon D'Arcy and this partnership could cause much havoc for the Italian defence to deal with.
Outside of the Leinster duo are an in-form back three of wingers Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble, plus full-back Rob Kearney.
The trio are at 7/1, 9/1 and 10/1 respectively to score the first try and of the three Ulster wing Trimble would get my vote. He has been in great form for his province and chances will come his way just as much as they will for Bowe on the opposite flank, so at the bigger price he would be the bet.
With the array of attacking talent in the back line one has to expect that the first try will be scored by the home side therefore the 1/6 about Ireland scoring the first try surely has to be snapped up.
Likewise the over 3.5 tries in the total home tries market has to be backed at a tempting 4/6. The non-relenting Irish juggernaut will more than likely see the Italians lose their discipline so 4/7 about there being a yellow card looks a little bit of value.
Normally the Azzurri could count on their captain Sergio Parisse to help them keep their discipline but the number eight is missing through injury which leaves a huge hole for Nick Mallett's side as he is their best player as well.
Italy do have the former Australian rugby league captain Craig Gower to call upon, however, it is expecting a lot for him to carry the side.
Before the win against Samoa in November Italy had not won in 13 matches and it is the same matchday squad that features in Dublin that did that day. So one would think that they will travel to the Emerald Isle in confident mood, however having "won" the wooden spoon four times in five years there will be no delusional thoughts as they prepare to face the champions.
The main handicap line gives the visitors a 21-point start, with both sides at 10/11. Only twice in the last five meetings have Ireland beaten Italy by such a margin and both of those matches were in Italy. Strangely, based on scorelines at least, Ireland struggle against Italy at home more than they do on the road.
However, with a packed Croke Park giving vocal support to the confident champions Declan Kidney's side should be able to overcome the deficit and run out as comfortable winners as their destructive back line takes the game to a leaderless Italian XV without the inspirational leadership of Parisse.