Six Nations 2014: Ireland Can Get One Hand on Trophy with Big Win over Italy

Rory MarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 02: Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland looks on during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on February 2, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland will hope to get back to winning ways when they face Italy on Saturday in Round 4 of the Six Nations.

Still sitting on top of the standings on points difference despite a narrow 13-10 defeat against England in the last round, Ireland could step up their pursuit of the championship by piling on the points in Dublin.

Joe Schmidt's side have a 21-point advantage over second-placed England after three games, and they should be looking to extend that significantly when they take on Italy.

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With England unlikely to gain much ground in their match against Wales at Twickenham, the Irish could find themselves needing just a narrow win to claim the Six Nations crown when they travel to Paris next week.

Italy pose a tough proposition. They have yet to win a game so far in the tournament but will be hurting after their last-minute loss to Scotland two weeks ago.

Ireland cannot take their opponents for granted. However, they must look to win big.

With key man Sergio Parisse unavailable for Italy, Ireland have the advantage from the off. Furthermore, Italy will also be without Alessandro Zanni.

The loss of these two means that an Italian upset is highly unlikely, especially as Schmidt has resisted the temptation to rest any of his big players.

The Kiwi has made just one enforced change to the starting 15 with Iain Henderson coming in for the injured Peter O’Mahony at blind-side flanker.

This decision may have been made in the knowledge that Ireland should be aiming for a large points haul.

Peter Morrison/Associated Press

With England playing Italy on the final day, Ireland need to extend their points tally as much as possible and set the English a daunting target.

If they can defeat Italy by between 20 and 30 points, they will have one hand on the trophy with only the narrowest of wins likely needed in Paris. 

Of course, if Wales are victorious at Twickenham, Ireland will be in an even better position.

There is one other thing of which Ireland need to be wary: Saturday marks the final international appearance by Brian O'Driscoll in Ireland.

He will also become the highest-capped international of all time, surpassing George Gregan's tally of 139 for Australia.

There is a danger that the inevitable emotion of the occasion could distract Ireland from the task in hand.

However, the Irish will be hoping that it will have a galvanising effect on their team. If so, Ireland will be in pole position to claim the Six Nations next weekend in Paris.