Ireland changes do not weaken team, Italy captain insists

Italy's Leonardo Ghiraldini

Italy do not expect to be facing a weakened Ireland in Sunday's Guinness Six Nations clash, despite the visitors resting several key figures.

Ireland captain Rory Best will miss just his second in 63 Six Nations matches, dating all the way back to 2007.

Ulster hooker Best has been rested, along with prop Cian Healy and lock James Ryan, but Azzurri skipper Leonardo Ghiraldini remains wary of the visitors' threat.

Leinster's double Champions Cup winner Sean Cronin will make his full Six Nations debut aged 32 and on his 68th cap, leaving his Italy counterpart and Toulouse star Ghiraldini under no illusions of Ireland's depth.

Asked if Ireland resting a clutch of forwards offers Italy an opening up front, Ghiraldini replied: "I don't think so, for us it doesn't change a lot for us.

"The captain Rory Best might be missing, but Sean Cronin is playing, he has 67 caps, he plays for Leinster; he won everything last season.

So it doesn't change the quality of the team.

Italy are yet to claim a Six Nations victory under head coach Conor O'Shea, who left Harlequins and took the helm in 2016.

The Azzurri boast just one victory over Ireland, the 22-15 shock of 2013.

Ghiraldini sees similarities between Italy's current set-up and back in the times of their solitary win over the Irish.

But the 34-year-old also admitted the class of 2019 must be mentally flawless in order to subdue Joe Schmidt's current Ireland side.

"I was playing with Treviso at the time of that game in 2013 when Italy beat Ireland and the results the club were having then are pretty similar to what they are doing this year," said former Leicester hooker Ghiraldini.

"There are about 13 or 14 players in the squad and it is also the same now. So there are similarities.

"It's important that the players have that confidence to win week in and week out.

Obviously they hope to translate that to the national team and Ireland have always been able to do that in recent years with Munster and Leinster.

"It's a completely different level though when trying to translate performances from club level to the national team.

"When they beat Ireland this year, England were amazing at the breakdown, the physicality; they brought everything.

"If you want to win a match at that level, you have to win the battle at every breakdown, in every tackle, in every collision.

"Mentally England were amazing against Ireland because they put pressure on them at every moment. So we have to play our rugby.

"We know we're playing one of the best teams in the world.

"They are really well organised and it seems they change their plan every week. So our goal is to play our rugby."

- Press Association