DUNEDIN, 1 Oct. - Italy's hopes of reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals for the first time by beating Ireland on Sunday have been boosted by the continual improvement of two key players.
Scrum half Fabio Semenzato and fly half Luciano Orquera have cemented their places in the team with impressive performances in New Zealand, but now they must match two players who are used to regularly making headlines - Conor Murray and Ronan O'Gara.
Murray's starting role at scrum half continues his meteoric rise since he made the squad ahead of Munster teammates and Irish and Lions internationals Peter Stringer and Tomas O'Leary.
"Murray is a more solid player and I think he was chosen because he is better in defence, which will be crucial in this match," Semenzato said.
"Leaving two players such as O'Leary and Stringer out of the squad shows how much choice they have at scrum half. To pick a player this young (Murray) shows how much faith they have in him and I have to match his level."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney picked O'Gara as fly half for the must-win clash at Otago Stadium ahead of Jonathan Sexton and it is a choice opposite number Orquera is in agreement with.
"If I was the Ireland coach I would have chosen him for this type of match," Orquera said.
"Against Australia (Jonathan) Sexton missed a number of kicks and especially in a match like this one, which will be very close, good kicking will be important. We can't allow him to shine on Sunday."
Ireland by contrast have their minds further forward, with the clash of two monster packs utmost in their minds.
The scrum in particular will be a key area with both teams searching to gain the upper hand. Ireland's powerful scrummaging was the key to their win over Australia, while Italy have won two penalty tries for having their scrums collapsed.
"You really have to back yourselves at this level and deal with what comes your way," Ireland prop Mike Ross said
"It's up to us to get our own house in order. If we do that then we'll be fairly confident to cope with what comes our way on Sunday."
Ireland welcome back a number of players from the team that sat out the 62-12 victory over Russia.
Chief among them is captain and centre Brian O'Driscoll. Also back are second row Paul O'Connell and wing Tommy Bowe.
"It's always hard sitting games out," O'Driscoll said. "You always want to play, in any Test match you miss in a green jersey. It's great to be back and I'm champing at the bit."
If O'Driscoll is under any doubts as to how hard Italy will push Ireland on Sunday, he only has to think back to their match in this year's Six Nations, when a last minute Ronan O'Gara drop goal spared Ireland's blushes and secured a 13-11 win.
"Each game (against Italy) has been getting harder and harder," O'Driscoll said.
"We really had to pull it out of the bag to beat them in Rome this year. We have to make sure we're on our game on Sunday, and hopefully they'll have to deal with that."
For Ireland, and Italy too (barring unlikely bonus-point equations), the situation is simple: win and go through to the knockout stages. Whoever loses is virtually guaranteed to be on a plane home.
"Our group has changed a lot over the last four years - it's a very strong group," Italy centre Gonzalo Canale said.
"Four years ago we missed a very great, historic chance against Scotland (when they lost 18-16 in their final pool match). This match against Ireland will be our final."