Brian O'Driscoll had a smile on his face during the week when he talked about opening Ireland's campaign in the Stadio Flaminio. Not that he was dismissing Italy – he's much too long of tooth and polite of manner for that. No, he was more talking about the trip away itself and the enjoyment he and his team invariably takes from heading over. "There are worse places to be playing rugby than Rome," he said.
He probably doesn't know how right he is. Over the past decade of Six Nations matches, Ireland have found playing against Italy a more manageable task in Rome than they have in Dublin. The average winning margin in Lansdowne Road or Croke Park over those 10 years is just under 17 points, as opposed to 22 in the Stadio Flaminio. Whereas games at home have often descended into mud-caked wars of attrition, Ireland have never encountered a lot of trouble running up a score in crisp, blue-skied Rome.
So far all the careful words over the coming week about not taking the Italians for granted, Ireland will go to Rome knowing this is the right fixture at the right time. The longer Declan Kidney can give Jamie Heaslip, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble to heal, the better. With Rory Best looking likely to make it back in time for Saturday, Kidney can avoid having to face the Italians with a completely callow front-row. It will be a helluva baptism for Mike Ross nonetheless.
The news that the totemic Sergio Parisse seems certain to miss the opener removes all mystery from the fixture. Any chance Italy had to make a game of it disappears with their captain and you can't see this being anything other than an exercise in damage limitation for them.
The same goes for Ireland, albeit in a different sense. They don't need to hockey Italy, just to win without any new injuries. That will be a grand day's work.