Conor O’Shea has backed Ireland to win the 2018 Six Nations title following the Azzurri’s 56-19 defeat to Joe Schmidt’s side in Dublin.
Italy captain Sergio Parisse believes Ireland “play much better rugby” than England, assessing the two most-fancied teams in the tournament after Italy lost to both in their opening matches.
“If you were to ask me now you’d say Ireland will win,” said O’Shea, tipping Ireland to deny England a record third-straight Six Nations crown.
“We obviously don’t know about the injuries and how that will affect things though. Robbie Henshaw’s doesn’t look good at all, and he and Tadhg Furlong are big losses to the team.”
Ireland ran in eight tries to subdue Italy 56-19 in Dublin, backing up their tournament-opening 15-13 win over France.
Former Ireland full-back O’Shea backed his countrymen to pip Eddie Jones’ England to the silverware this year, especially with home matches against Wales and Scotland to come.
Ireland will face England at Twickenham on March 17 in the last round of fixtures, with O’Shea expecting a title-deciding showdown in London.
“They won’t lose in Dublin,” said O’Shea. “I can’t see anything other than it going down to March 17.
“I always knew, even though I didn’t say it in advance, that this was the day that was going to be the hardest we’d face for many a year.”
Italy talisman and captain Parisse also backed up O’Shea’s assertion that Ireland are bound for glory this year, insisting that Schmidt’s side are superior to England.
“I think Ireland play much better rugby than England for me,” said Parisse. “It’s much more difficult to defend against them, for me.
“For me personally it was far more difficult against Ireland. I like the way they play. For me they play very good rugby; yeah, they are better than England.”