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Craig Casey and Ross Byrne ready to step up to plate as Garry Ringrose blow forces late reshuffle

Craig Casey, right, and Ross Byrne during the Ireland rugby captain's run at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. Photo by: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O'

Despite losing another of their starting backs to injury yesterday, Ireland are confident they have what it takes to make it three from three against Italy in Rome today.

Garry Ringrose joins Jamison Gibson-Park, Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw on the sidelines as the calf injury he suffered against France flared up after he was named to start on Thursday. The Leinster star is replaced by Stuart McCloskey, with Bundee Aki moving to the No 13 shirt.

It means that Ireland have fresh half-back and midfield partnerships, with Craig Casey and Ross Byrne making their first Six Nations starts at the Stadio Olimpico. Assistant coach Mike Catt is confident they’ll step up.

“Ross has gone away, taken his medicine; he’s fixed what we needed him to do, or what we needed him to do to get in the team,” the ex-England star said.

“I think staying with Leinster, they play some brilliant rugby and Ross has really got his confidence back. He’s an exceptionally good speaker, so he controls the room when he speaks, he’s an exceptionally good leader, he understands the game.

“That authority that Ross gives you, a little like Johnny, is something that Jack (Crowley) could learn still, that’s his process he’s going through.

“It’s making sure that Ross implements that tomorrow. You can’t argue that Ross has played exceptionally well this year and he deserves a shot, and he’s taken it. That’s what we love as a group of coaches.

“He’s been down, chucked away and back in, and he’s performing and he’s going to make sure he stays there.

“Craig’s kicking game has come on hugely so he’s got a much wider range of kicks. Kicking in the right areas of the pitch as well, which comes down to your game management.

“It’s something we’ve been quite guilty of, playing a lot of the time in and around that halfway area. We play too much rugby and if you make an error or you’re kicking on slow ball, whereas Craig’s really developed that ability to see that space in the backfield and kick into that.

“He’s learned massively off Jamison in terms of his speed. His speed around the park is exceptional and then his pass accuracy has just gone to another level, purely because he throws however many passes a week. He’s just relentless with it. And he’s a hell of a guy amongst the boys too, so he thoroughly deserves his shot and it’s up to him whether he takes it or not tomorrow.”

Prior to taking the Ireland job, Catt was assistant coach to Conor O’Shea with Italy and he says he’s seen big improvements in the home side under Kieran Crowley.

“They’ve picked a team that can play the way he wants to play,” he said.

“They’re younger, they’re fitter, they can move, they’re massively passionate, a very passionate captain in (Michele) Lamaro. Their set-piece, their lineout has been very good and their scrum has been excellent,” he added. “They probably didn’t get the benefits of what they should in the past two games but they’ve definitely improved.

“You can feel there’s a sense of real energy in the team. It’s great and they will learn along the way.”

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