Ireland take on bottom side Italy in Round 4 of the Six Nations on March 8, knowing victory would put Joe Schmidt's side within touching distance of the title.
The hosts fell to a 13-10 defeat against England last time out, but they will be looking to get back to winning ways and continue their excellent home form at the Aviva Stadium.
Italy, though, will still be smarting from their last-minute defeat against Scotland. The match looked all but won at the Stadio Olimpico, before Duncan Weir's drop goal sealed the points for Scotland.
They'll be looking for another competitive performance against Ireland and should the Italians score a shock win in Dublin, it would put a major dent in the hosts' championship pursuit.
|Ireland vs. Italy: Date, Live Stream, TV Schedule and Prediction|
|Date||Time||Live Stream||TV Schedule||Prediction|
|March 8||2.30 p.m. GMT, 9.30 a.m. ET||BBC Sport app||BBC One||24-20|
|RBS Six Nations: Latest Table|
Can Italy cause an upset?
The Azzuri will be disappointed with their contribution to this year's competition, as a series of heavy defeats and last-gasp disappointments have left Jacques Brunel's side rooted to the bottom of the table.
Despite Tommaso Allan's excellent points haul against Scotland, his team-mates failed to hold on against Scotland as Weir was given time and space to kick for glory.
Weir's drop goal capped a wonderful comeback for Scotland, but it highlighted Italy's inability to see out a game against a side who had sat one place below them before kick-off.
Italy's physical nature was on show in the defeat, their pack setting up a 13-3 half-time lead. More of the same is needed this weekend.
Despite defeat, Ireland assistant coach John Plumtree believes their counterparts will be tough to break down, telling RTE.ie's Tadhg Peavoy of the strong nature of Italy's pack:
I’ve had a fair bit of homework on Italy, because I'm fairly new here. Set-piece wise they’re going to be very tough. Obviously we’ve got to look after [Sergio] Parisse. We’ve got to apply a lot of pressure on them to force them into error.
The scrum is very effective for them. If we get positions on the field that are in good favour, they can take that away from you by applying a big, big scrum to you. They have a real combative nature about them.
With power comes responsibility, and Plumtree spoke of Italy's tendency to over-commit in certain areas, highlighting the importance of his side making their possession count:
At times, they live on the edge, and if they over commit at the breakdown and put us under pressure, it means they’re under-done somewhere else, and we’ve got to expose them in those areas.
If Italy are to cause an upset in Dublin, it'll be this physicality that they will have to bring to the fore and take the game to their opponents.
Ireland boast superiority with ball in hand and will expect to have too much flair for their visitors, but Italy will make it uncomfortable if they get in their hosts' faces from the off.
Battle of the boot in Dublin?
If there's one thing that both of these sides have proved during this year's tournament, it's that they both have excellent dead-ball specialists in Johnny Sexton and Tommaso Allan.
Sexton picked up a conversion and one penalty in the defeat to England, with his Italian counterpart notching a conversion and two penalties—with a try for good measure—against the Scots.
Sexton's fitness—following a thumb injury against England, per Guardian's Paul Rees—had made him a doubt for the rest of the Six Nations campaign.
However, as tweeted by TV3 sports reporter Sinead Kissane, Sexton's chances of featuring against Italy looked good after returning to training:
Sexton's place in Ireland's starting side was confirmed as tweeted by his club, Racing Metro:
A physical battle in Dublin could see a plethora of penalties awarded to both sides and, with a chance to give his side a major boost as they chase their first Six Nations title since 2009, Sexton will have to keep his focus.
It'll be a big game, too, for referee Nigel Owens, who tweeted of his excitement in taking charge of a milestone match:
If Ireland are to progress into the final round of fixtures with any chance of winning the title, they'll have to match Italy's intensity levels and earn the right to play.
Schmidt's men travel to fellow title-chasers France in the final round, while Italy have the potential to cause another upset against England.
Ireland will take comfort from Sexton's inclusion. According to ESPN Scrum's StatsGuru, Sexton has never been on the end of a defeat against Italy, as Ireland have romped to three wins out of three with the Racing Metro man in the side.
Allan's first tournament has had its share of disappointment after opting to play for the Italians over Scotland, having previously represented his father's native Scots at Under-20 level, per BBC Sport's Tom Fordyce.
Looking for his first win in the Azzurri squad, Allan will be hoping to kick his side to glory and end Ireland's dreams of Six Nations glory.
However, Sexton's imagination and consistency, coupled with Ireland's overall quality, should be more than enough to see off the Italians this weekend.
Prediction: Ireland 24-20 Italy.
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