Jamison Gibson-Park and Stephen Varney vie for scrum-half supremacy in Dublin

Stephen Varney and Jamison Gibson-Park each made international debuts in autumn 202

Ireland will bid to get their Six Nations title challenge back on track on Sunday afternoon when Italy visit the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Irish Grand Slam hopes were ended by a 30-24 loss away to France in Round 2 of the championship, while the Italians suffered a 34th successive tournament defeat at home to England.

Here, the PA news agency examines an intriguing scrum-half battle.

Jamison Gibson-Park – Leinster

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Position: Scrum-half Age: 30 Caps: 14
Debut:
versus Italy, 2020 Height: 5′ 9″ Weight: 12st 7lbs Points: 10 (two tries)

New Zealand-born Gibson-Park first emerged as a serious threat to Conor Murray’s decade-long dominance of Ireland’s number nine jersey during the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020.

Having qualified for his adopted nation on residency grounds, he now looks to have firmly dislodged the British & Irish Lion. The playmaker, who this week turned 30, has started eight of the past 11 Tests. He is a master of quick ball, possesses fine footwork, and has the ability to break the line and carve open defences with off-the-cuff manoeuvres.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell declared this time last year that Gibson-Park was on his way to becoming a “top-class international scrum-half” and the Leinster man has certainly taken strides forward since then.

Stephen Varney – Gloucester

Position: Scrum-half Age: 20 Caps: 11 Debut: versus Scotland, 2020 Height: 5′ 9″ Weight: 12st 8lbs Points: 5 (one try)

Despite being almost 10 years younger, Varney made his Test debut just three weeks after Gibson-Park and has gone on to become a mainstay for the Azzurri.

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Born and raised in Pembrokeshire, Wales, his father Adrian enjoyed an impressive club rugby career as a flanker with Neath and Aberavon. Yet Varney, whose middle name is Lorenzo, has strong Italian connections. His great-grandfather served in the Italian army and was a prisoner of war at a camp in west Wales, while his maternal grandparents are also from Italy.

The 20-year-old is preparing to face Ireland for the first time after a finger injury led to his late withdrawal last year in Rome – the only Six Nations match he has missed since his maiden international outing.

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