x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Friends down to serious business as rivals in Ireland-Italy clash

Fullback Murphy says his Leicester Tigers club mate, Castrogiovanni, is a key player for the Italians.

Martin Castrogiovanni was immense against the United States and will be taking the confidence from that match to try and build on Italy's last Six Nations performance against Ireland.
Martin Castrogiovanni was immense against the United States and will be taking the confidence from that match to try and build on Italy's last Six Nations performance against Ireland.

DUNEDIN // Martin Castrogiovanni, the Italy prop, and Geordan Murphy, the Ireland fullback, are rugby club mates and business partners, so with their nations due to meet in a pivotal Rugby World Cup clash on Sunday they have wasted little time in winding each other up.

"He's been texting me. The closer the game gets, I'm receiving more and more text messages from him," Murphy told reporters yesterday.

"He swears a lot at me in Italian and he's trying to teach me all the bad words. I'm not going to repeat them."

The two men, teammates at the English Premiership club Leicester Tigers, are co-owners of an Italian restaurant in the English midlands, and the lean Murphy says he is well aware of his giant, shaggy-haired friend's capacity for food.

"I'm thinking of leaving some baskets of chips in the corners," he said. "That should do it. The amount he eats, it should distract him quite nicely.

"If you look at the shape of both of us, I tend to drink a lot of water and he tends to eat a lot of the food."

For all the banter, Ireland know that Castrogiovanni, who was immense again in their front-row demolition of the United States on Tuesday, is vital to Italian hopes on Sunday.

"He's a good mate of mine, he's a fantastic prop and he's a different character off the field to what he is on it," Murphy said. "He's certainly one of Italy's key players."

Ireland go into the game knowing any sort of victory, or even a draw, would be enough to guarantee top spot in group C while a win for Italy may not be enough for them to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Ireland have won the last 15 meetings between the two but, given that they needed a last-gasp Ronan O'Gara drop goal to sneak to a 13-11 win in their Rome Six Nations clash this year, they are taking absolutely nothing for granted.

"They've improved massively over the years, they are a serious side, they're a very physical side but they're playing some good football alongside that now and are scoring some good tries," said Murphy, who could miss out on a starting berth due to the good form of the fit-again Rob Kearney.

"It's the biggest game of the pool, they've said they are targeting it," Murphy added.

"They will raise their intensity from the Six Nations. It's the World Cup, it's a level up and I'm sure the game will reflect that. Our backs will be against the wall as much as theirs will."