Ireland need to be wary of the Italy pack
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: February 22, 2012 6:59pm
Shane Byrne believes Ireland's congested schedule in the RBS Six Nations could work in their favour.
Ireland opened up their challenge with a controversial defeat to Wales at the Aviva Stadium, while their scheduled clash with France was then postponed 10 minutes before kick-off due to the freezing temperatures in Paris.
That means Ireland now face a run of four games over successive weekends, starting with the visit of Italy to Dublin on Saturday.
And although that run looks a daunting prospect, former hooker Byrne believes it could be a good thing for the Irish.
"Ireland are now facing a run of four tough games in the Six Nations after the postponement in France and they have got to use this to their advantage."
Shane Byrne Quotes of the week
Byrne, who was capped 45 times, told Sky Sports: "Ireland are now facing a run of four tough games in the Six Nations after the postponement in France and they have got to use this to their advantage.
"It will be physically demanding - especially starting against Italy - but this is the chance to put a run together.
"They showed against England last year and against Australia in the World Cup that they are a good team, they have just lacked that consistency.
"They can use a win against Italy to kick on from. However it is not just about the result against Italy, it is about a good performance.
"There is no point scraping to victory, they need to play in the way we all know that they can play, too."
Standing in Ireland's way of putting their challenge back on track, though, will be the Azzurri, who came seconds away from beating Declan Kidney's men in Rome 12 months ago.
Ireland needed an injury-time drop-goal from Ronan O'Gara to secure a 13-11 win and Byrne expects Italy to pose problems up-front once again.
"Italy like to play it tight and around the fringes. It is the classic 10-man style of rugby, well except for the fact that they haven't got a 10."
Shane Byrne Quotes of the week
However the former Leinster and Saracens front-row, who won all five of his encounters against Italy, believes Jacques Brunel's side lack the necessary quality in the backs.
"Italy are a much-improved side," he said. "We all know about their pack - it has probably performed the best of all the Six Nations sides so far - but they just haven't got the back division to go with it.
"As England showed, though, you've got to play for the full 80 minutes against them. If you switch off and turn your back for a minute they can punish you as they are an immensely physical side.
"They are getting better as a team, too. They just don't have a 10 to control the game and they lack the quality out wide.
"Their pack play in general is particularly impressive. They like to play it tight and around the fringes.
"It is the classic 10-man style of rugby, well except for the fact that they haven't got a 10! The players aren't of the same ability out wide so they play to their strengths."
Shane Byrne is representing Team Ireland in the upcoming DHL First Nation Home Challenge in aid of this year's Sport Relief. For more information, and for behind-the-scenes access to the teams, visit www.firstnationhome.com