Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 20 News List

O'Sullivan waits for chickens to hatch

AFP AND REUTERS , DUBLIN AND EDINBURGH

Eddie O'Sullivan had a typically eloquent reply when asked about Ireland's chances of winning the Six Nations Championship ahead of today's match against Italy at Lansdowne Road.

"Putting the cart before the horse is a great way to end up looking stupid," the Irish coach said.

Ireland's dramatic 19-13 win against world and Six Nations champions England two weeks ago has given them a title chance.

If they can win their remaining matches against Italy and Scotland -- and the duo are at the wrong end of the table -- Ireland could, at worst, finish level at the top with either England or Grand-Slam chasing France or both.

In the event of a tie the Championship would come down to points difference.

Ireland appear to have the best chance of all the contenders to pile on the points, especially as both their remaining games are at home.

But O'Sullivan, desperately keen to keep a lid on rising Irish expectations of what would be a first Championship title since they won the old Five Nations in 1985, said: "It would be terribly bad to worry about the points margin. Test matches are about winning."

O'Sullivan has made just one change to the team that ended England's 22-Test match unbeaten run at Twickenham.

Leicester wing Geordan Murphy returns in place of Ulster's Tyrone Howe for his first international since he broke his leg in September.

Italy coach John Kirwan has been forced to make four changes to the side that achieved a morale-boosting 20-14 win at home to Scotland as the Azzuri go in search of their first away Six Nations victory.

Veteran lock Carlo Checchinato and Calvisano wing Nicola Mazzucato were recalled to the starting line-up in place of Treviso's Santiago Dellape and Arix Viadana's Andrea Masi, who drop to the bench.

Lock Checchinato's 83rd Test appearance will see him equal injured scrum-half Alessandro Troncon's Italian cap record.

Injuries have ruled out No.8 Sergio Parisse and centre Manuel Dallan and they were replaced by New Zealand-born Scott Palmer and Matteo Barbini respectively.

Such has been Italy's improvement in recent seasons their victory against Scotland was not regarded as a shock result.

And Italy hooker Fabio Ongaro said: "At the start of the tournament John Kirwan said he wanted two victories and it would be wonderful to fulfil his wish with a win against the Irish in Dublin."

Meanwhile, France are the only unbeaten team in the Six Nations and Scotland have lost their first three games but the French are on their guard for tomorrow's meeting at Murrayfield.

"It's true that we are going to Murrayfield as favorites, it would be pointless to deny it but we have to beware of a burst of Scotland's pride," team manager Jo Maso told reporters on Thursday at the French training camp.

"The Scots have lost their first three games of the championship, they will be out for revenge," he added.

"What's more, they will travel to Dublin for their last game and know that a win at Murrayfield against us is probably their last chance to avoid the wooden spoon."

Coach Bernard Laporte said he had been telling his players all week that "it's never easy to win in Edinburgh" despite the fact that France crushed Scotland 51-9 in a World Cup pool game in October in Sydney.

"If you look at the first part of the championship, you will quickly discover that the so-called `second-level' teams have closed the gap on the presumed top teams," he said.

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