Leading by just 12 points at the break, having played with a gale-force wind, Ireland produced a superbly disciplined, committed second half performance to defeat Italy 19-3 at Lansdowne Road.
Leading by just 12 points at half-time, having played with a gale-force wind, Ireland produced a superbly disciplined and committed second half performance to defeat Italy 19-3 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
The conditions were simply atrocious and meant that the pattern of the game was going to be determined by the respective packs. In that area alone Ireland won hands down with Anthony Foley (RBS Man of the Match), Shane Byrne, Donncha O’Callaghan, Malcolm O’Kelly and until he went off injured, Keith Gleeson, quite outstanding.
One of the aspects of this performance that will no doubt have pleased coach Eddie O’Sullivan is how his side coped, not so much with the elements, but with the re-adjusted game plan necessitated by the weather conditions. This time around Ireland were asked to get down n dirty, trench warfare’, O’Sullivan termed it, and in fairness to everyone in the green jersey, they worked their socks off.
A lot was made beforehand of this Italian pack and they made their intentions clear right from the start. The invitation to rumble was sent out when Roland de Marigny deliberately kicked off short to force an early scrum and the rsvp was returned straight away, the Irish pack firmly refusing to be bossed, bullied or indeed budged.
Referee Kelvin Deaker had to set tha first scrum four times before finally penalising Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni and that penalty, awarded after just 1 minute 23 seconds of play, informed the Italians that if their Plan A was based around dominating up front, then Plan B was needed sooner rather than later.
With the gale at their backs Ireland laid siege to the Italian line and although the statistics told us they’d spent 85% of the first 20 minutes in their opponents half they had nothing to show for it. When the first score did arrive it owed as much to Italian incompetence as to the razor sharp awareness of Malcolm O’Kelly. It came at a time when Italy were reduced to 14 after hooker Fabio Ongaro had been sin-binned. Ronan O’Gara threaded through a delightful kick to set up a line-out five metres from the Italian line. Carlo Festuccia had come on to replace Ongaro and he took the throw.
However he threw to the front, his intended target being Andrea Lo Cicero who actually had his back turned to the thrower and O’Kelly snaffled the throw and breezed past a clearly bewildered Lo Cicero and the unprepared Italian cover.
Shortly after, Geordan Murphy almost squeezed in at the left hand corner, but lost the ball in the tackle and then Brian O’Driscoll displayed the sort of guile and skill that makes him such a class act.
After Shane Horgan had broken the Italian line to set up a good field position, O’Driscoll broke left, sold a delightful dummy pass to O’Kelly and skinned the Italian defence to score on the left, O’Gara landing the conversion. The out-half was wide with a close in effort just before the break and the 12 point lead at half-time looked far from comfortable.
If anything the wind had freshened by the time the sides re-appeared and just to compound the misery for players and supporters alike, it was joined by intermittent bout of icy-cold lashing rain.
Italy battered their way into the Irish 22 but found the Irish defence unforgiving.
Needing a score to increase the pressure on the home side they opted for a penalty attempt in the 46th minute but de Marigny’s effort never troubled the posts.
Then, the sequence that virtually sealed the outcome.
Ireland broke clear thanks to a smashing Gordon D’Arcy dash and after Keith Gleeson and Simon Easterby had stuffed Nicola Mazzucatoin midfield, O’Callaghan stole at the ruck and Ireland’s incursion into the Italian 22 ended when O’Gara threw a flat pass for Horgan to score under the posts, Italian appeals for forward pass rejected by referee Deaker.
Just after O’Gara had kicked the conversion, the Italians should have replied with a seven pointer when Denis Dallan had the line at his mercy but failed to hold the pass.
The excellent Keith Gleeson went off injured in the 59 minute and he was followed to the sideline by O’Driscoll four minutes later, the Irish captain yellow-carded for a high tackle on Paul Griffen.
The realization that they were never going to breach the Irish defence was evidenced in the 66th minute when de Marigny opted to kick for the posts – despite Griffen’s obvious disapproval – when his side was awarded a penalty deep inside the Irish 22. de Marigny slotted this one to begin and end the scoring for the visitors.
In the end it was a job well done by Ireland who can now look forward to next Saturday and a crack at the Triple Crown.
Girvan Dempsey (Leinster); Shane Horgan (Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy
(Leinster), Brian O’Driscoll capt (Leinster), Geordan Murphy
Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Peter Stringer (Munster); Reggie Corrigan
Simon Easterby (Llanelli/WAL), Malcom O’Kelly (Leinster); John Hayes
(Munster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Keith Gleeson (Leinster),
Foley (Munster), Shane Byrne (Leinster).
(Leinster) for Gleeson 63 min; Marcus Horan
(Munster) for Corrigan 68 min; Kevin Maggs (Bath) for D’Arcy 84 min; Guy Easterby (Rotherham) for Stringer 85 min;
Frank Sheahan (Munster) 88 min; Gary Longwell (Ulster) for O’Callaghan 88 min; David Humphreys (Ulster) for O’Gara 86 min.
Gonzalo Canale (Treviso); Nicola Mazzucato (Calvisano), Cristian
(Montpellier), Matteo Barbini (Padova), Denis Dallan (Treviso),
Marigny (Overmach Parma), Paul Griffen (Calvisano), Andrea Lo Cicero
Aaron Persico (Leeds), Andrea De Rossi capt (Calvisano), Marco
(Padova), Carlo Checcinato (Treviso), Martin Leandro Castrogiovanni
(Calvisano), Fabio Ongaro (Treviso), Scott Palmer (Treviso).
Replacements: Carlo Festuccia (Gran Parma) for Plamer 30 min, temp), Andrea Masi
(Viadana) for Barbini 55 min,
Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais) Canale 69 min, Salvatore Perugini
(Calvisano) for Lo Cicero 85 min;
Santiago Dellape (Treviso) for Checchinato 55 min; Simon Picone (Treviso) for Grifen 85 min
Roberto Mandelli (Calvisano) for Palmer 86 min.
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (NZL)