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new faces I can't wait to see the new guys against Italy but we have to get a bonus-point win


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I'm a huge fan of Ryan Baird

I'm a huge fan of Ryan Baird

Mike Lowry is enjoying a fine season

Mike Lowry is enjoying a fine season

Peter O'Mahony

Peter O'Mahony

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I'm a huge fan of Ryan Baird

Well, Irish coach Andy Farrell has gone half way to where I wanted him to go.

He has made some interesting, positive, and what I hope will be informative, selection calls for the match against Italy at the Aviva Stadium today.

But not quite as many as I would have hoped for.

My argument is that if a player cannot help us to win a Six Nations match against Italy at home, then what use is he going to be when injuries to one of the first XV mean that player has to take his place against South Africa or New Zealand in the World Cup.

It's no good finding out then that a player is not up to the required standard.

But this is the old chestnut in Irish rugby - the IRFU prioritises success in the Six Nations Championship above every other game, above every other possible victory.

Above the World Cup, above home or away matches against New Zealand, above beating the world champions Springboks in Dublin next November.

The Six Nations is the IRFU's cash-cow and they make no bones about that.

And after two years where the Union brought in very little cash, they need the Irish team to finish as high as they can in the Six Nations ranking and so get as much prize-money as possible.

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Mike Lowry is enjoying a fine season

Mike Lowry is enjoying a fine season

Mike Lowry is enjoying a fine season

And that means getting a bonus-point win over the Italians this afternoon in Dublin.

Thus Andy Farrell (right) has limited himself to just two main experiments.

Ulster's Michael Lowry gets a well-earned start at full-back, and Ryan Baird of Leinster comes into the second row.

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Lowry has been excellent for Ulster all season and is worthy of this call-up.

He's a bit small by the norms of international rugby nowadays, but Peter Stringer was small too and he was a great bit of stuff.

Is Lowry going to displace Hugo Keenan for the England match? No, no matter what he does in today's game.

But we will find out if Michael is up to delivering the goods at Test level.

And I'm delighted to see Baird getting a start. I've been championing this lad for a long time.

To me, he's a real athlete and a great physical prospect.

I'm really looking forward to seeing him go from the start of an international as distinct from coming on and playing the last ten minutes of the match.

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Peter O'Mahony

Peter O'Mahony

Peter O'Mahony

In the matter of picking the captain, Farrell has gone back to the future by giving the honour to Peter O'Mahony.

I've no doubt Peter will rise to the occasion and he'll be determined to send Farrell a memo that he wants to play against England on Saturday week, with Caelan Doris now shifted to his natural home of No 8.

The other selection call sees Joey Carbery keeping his place at out-half ahead of Johnny Sexton.

I'm fully on board with the national coach here. There's nothing to be gained by Johnny playing in this match.

Joey was far from our poorest player in Paris two weeks ago and he deserves another chance to lead the team - this time with a pack that will be going forward and scenting dominance.

As with Lowry and Keenan, will Joey keep Johnny out of the team for that game in Twickenham?

No, but that's not the point. Remember New Zealand won the 2011 World Cup with their third-choice No 10 pulling the strings. You need more than one out-half to do well in a World Cup.

The team to play Italy will be a disappointment for the likes of James Hume, Robert Baloucoune, Jordan Larmour, Dave Kilcoyne and Gavin Coombes, all squad members who might have fancied this match as the one in which they would get their chance to strut their stuff.

None of Baloucoune, Larmour or Coombes even make the bench today. That will be hard for them to take, having trained and practiced so hard over the last few weeks.

It goes without saying that Ireland should win this match today, and with that bonus point that might bring us right back into the hunt to win the Championship.

France have still to go to Cardiff, England have to visit Paris, Scotland have two away matches to come and we've to go to London of course.

It is all to play for if Ireland can put the Italians away this afternoon.

I'll be looking for a serious forward effort in the early going.

Our front row is strong, and as good as anyone's in the world at the moment.

O'Mahony and Tadhg Beirne (inset) will pilfer Italian ball at the rucks and mauls and I hope to see Baird, Doris and Josh van der Flier do their stuff in the loose.

Behind them there is plenty of talent and attacking sting in the back-line.

The returning James Lowe will know that Mack Hansen is now serious competition for his place and again at centre, Bundee Aki will be disappointed to have lost out.

It's just that we have so many good players at centre right now.

Farrell cannot squeeze them all into his team and today is a rare day that a centre, Hume, is chosen as a substitute.

I can see Ireland pulling away in the second period this afternoon and putting a decent total on the scoreboard.

But it has to be an 80-minute effort. Remember the 2007 Six Nations, the one we lost on scoring difference because we allowed Italy score a converted try in added time in Rome.

Ireland have to be clinical today, and, I believe, two new players and all, we will be!

RESULTS: Ireland 29 Wales 7; Scotland 20 England 17; France 37 Italy 10; Wales 20 Scotland 17; France 30 Ireland 24.

Italy 0 England 33.

Yesterday Scotland 17 France 36; England 23 Wales 19. Fixtures: Today - Ireland v Italy, 3pm;

March 11 - Wales v France, 8pm; March 12 - Italy v Scotland, 2.15pm; England v Ireland 4.45pm:

March 19 - Wales v Italy, 2.15pm; Ireland v Scotland, 4.45; France v England, 8pm.

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