Ireland vs. Italy: All the talking points, biggest moments and player ratings
The World Cup countdown is on.
Andy Farrell's side get underway on the road to France with a World Cup warm-up against Italy, on Saturday evening [8pm kick-off]. We'll have all the biggest moments, talking points and, after the match, Ireland ratings for you.
Follow our live match feed and check out all the big scores, player ratings and talking points RIGHT HERE:
Refresher on Ireland ratings for Six Nations
We give out Ireland ratings after each Test match and, after each tournament or series, revisit those ratings to give an overall ranking of the most impactful players.
Hugo Keenan took our top accolade, with Mack Hansen, Johnny Sexton and Josh van der Flier just behind. Ryan Baird only played three games [one start] but had the best rating when working out averages. Check out the full list here.
Iain Henderson will captain Ireland, in the absence of the suspended Johnny Sexton. Asked how he is enjoying the pre-season slog, the Ulstet lock joked:
"One of the lads said, in the session this afternoon, he was tasting the salmon he had for lunch! But that is brought about through hard rugby work rather than, let's say, an aimless task to make you vomit."
Henderson was part of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads, with bigger pressure and focus on Ireland in that latter tournament due to them peaking at World No.1 weeks out from the tournament, their 2018 Grand Slam and claiming World Rugby Team of the Year, nine months after that.
"In 2019 we obviously felt," Henderson starts, before stopping to mull the question. "We were obviously a good team - we had decent players and a bunch of good results behind us - but I'm not 100% sure if we went in best prepared for that World Cup.
"And I'm not 100% what was behind it, or what it was down to. Be it the structure of that World Cup or our lead-up into it. That was discussed a lot with Faz, with the physios, S&C staff, other rugby coaches, players, nutritionists, everyone from a whole range, all to ensure he could nail this one."
- Jimmy O'Brien on Johnny Sexton ban and Andrew Conway training with the squad
- Cian Prendergast on the Ireland team bus and who gets the back row seats
- Iain Henderson had perhaps the most human reaction to Johnny Sexton situation
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- Stuart McCloskey, the man they could no longer ignore
- Josh van der Flier flourishing under added hype and expectation was one of the season's best stories
- Tadhg Beirne and the Leinster mistake that gets worse every season
House of Rugby hands out 2022/23 season awards