A warmer spell of weather meant Ireland actually got to play this weekend, taking on Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Let us know what you thought of the game either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch and remember to use our handy beginners A-Z guide to rugby, here.
After a two week pause for breath the Six Nations got started again at the Aviva Stadium as Italy took on Ireland. Italy were coming to this match on the back of a disappointing loss to England in a frozen Rome, whilst Ireland had been given an extra week off after the frozen pitch debacle in Paris.
Tobias Botes’ selection at fly half for Italy was a pre-match talking point due to his two shocking efforts at the end of the England game. Two minutes into the game and he was given the chance to prove he had been practising his penalties. He hadn’t.
Five minutes later he was given a chance to earn his reprieve, his scruffy kick just squeezing inside the left upright to get the scoreboard started.
Despite taking a bash to the head that looked for a minute like he may need the blood bin, Jonny Sexton evened things up with a penalty for Italian crossing.
Ireland managed to string a few phases together and started to settle into a routine in the Italian 22. When a penalty kick was turned down in favour of a line out, it gave the Irish the chance to creep the ball closer and closer to the Italian line and quick ball meant Keith Earls, wearing the 13 shirt today, squeezed over for the first score. Sexton converted to take the score to 10-3.
Cian Healy had everyone worried after demonstrating how not to tackle, getting his head in the wrong place and taking a knee to the head that laid him motionless at the back of a ruck. A quick dose of the smelling salts worked wonders and the game restarted.
With twenty five minutes gone neither side had particularly sparkled, Ireland just edging it in the match stats and score.
Botes continued to show that Italy don’t have a fly half of the necessary quality at this level, this time by setting up a Italian scrum five metres out via bouncing the ball up off the cross bar, into the arms of Rob Kearney and leading to a maul that Italy somehow got the feed from.
A consequent sliced drop goal effort by Botes emphasised this point as the game became scrappy and the Italians applied the pressure. Playing to their strengths, the Azzuri caused all sorts of trouble at the breakdown, forcing a turnover on the Irish 10 metre line and giving Italy the chance to threaten before poor decision making saw the chance dissipate.
A poor line out saw the ball break loose and Italian flanker Barbieri scrambled to within inches of the line. With all the Irish defenders stuck on the left, Italy went right and Parisse cantered over to score a deserved try under the posts. Even Botes couldn’t miss this kick and the scores were levelled with a few minutes to half time.
Keen to take the advantage back, Ireland earned a line out in an almost identical position to when they got their first try. Heaslip took the ball and it was worked wide, Tommy Bowe coming off his wing and getting close. The ball went through the phases again before finding its way to Bowe again, back out on his wing where he was more successful this time around, diving over. Sexton converted on the half time whistle to recreate the seven point lead.
Good work in the opening minutes of the second half by the Italian forwards gave Botes another chance to silence his growing sceptics but the scrum half turned 10 could only continue his missing habit.
A break by Stephen Ferris saw Gordon D’Arcy jump over, but only after the whistle had went for a clear knock on. With the Italian line within touching distance, the Irish forwards went all Italian, popping their opposite numbers up at scrum time and giving Sexton the chance for his easiest three points of the day. With the minimum of effort, he took Ireland’s tally to twenty and the advantage to ten points.
With the tide starting to turn, another break by Rob Kearny stretched the Italian defence, forcing the error allowing Sexton to add yet another three points from distance while Italy returned the usually more accurate Kris Burton to the fly half position at the expense of the flawed Botes.
Clearly feeling more confident and the rustiness of three weeks of rest now out their legs, Ireland found a higher gear, battered their way into the Italian 22 and a huge mis-pass from Sexton gave Tommy Bowe his second try, the ball arrowing accurately into his hands past the despairing reach of Luke McClean. With the score at 30-10, Italy had it all to do in twenty minutes.
A penalty gave Italy the chance to attack from the same position Ireland had scored two tries from the five metre line out. Italy though could not find the same finesse, instead allowing Paul O’Connell to rip the ball from Parisse and Sexton to boot the ball as far away as possible.
With the margin seemingly too much, the crowd started to relax and revelled in the introduction of Ronan O’Gara who became Ireland’s most capped player in the process, with 118 to his name.
Italy seemed unable to get their heads up and challenge the Irish anymore, Ireland instead slowly turning the screw before a series of pressured drives resulted in Tom Court scoring from short range. Sexton kept his 100% accuracy to take the score to 37-10 with the 80th minute approaching.
With everyone cheering Sexton for being named Man of the Match, Andrew Trimble threw a lovely dummy against three defenders to gallop to the try line as the clock reached zero. From the tightest of angles Sexton finally missed one, but it mattered not, the final score 42-10 to Ireland.
The scoreboard was probably a little too kind to Ireland, their dominance appearing more emphatic than was the case. The kicking, or lack of, by Tobias Botes played a part in stunting the optimism of his team mates, any good work failing to reap rewards. But to say it was Botes’ fault is unfair. Yet again we are left applauding the efforts of the Italian forwards and lamenting the efforts of the backs.
Like a broken record we highlight the efforts of Parisse but it is entirely justified. Praise for him should be taken as a reflection on those around him, with fellow back-rowers Zanni and Barbeiri also impressing in the tight and loose.
But once again as soon as the ball leaves the hands of the scrum half, there never seems to be a real threat bar through the mistakes of others. As a case in point, centre Sgarbi found himself with loose ball in the Irish 22 at one point but never looked likely to break away for the score, the cover defence getting across easily.
As the game went on and still nothing to show for their efforts in the half, tiredness set in and technique and discipline suffered, meaning the pressure of Ireland became too much. We never thought Italy would win this game but to lose by so many will be disheartening above anything else.
Ireland too will not be entirely pleased on reflection. The end of the game was by far better than the start, the effect of three weeks without a game seemingly being a factor. In general the play was solid if not setting the world alight.
The threat from the backs was always going to outdo their counterparts and Bowe and Kearney continued to impress. Sexton again demonstrated he was developing into the fly half to take Ireland forward when O’Gara decides to stop accumulating caps, whilst Keith Earls looked the most likely candidate to fill the 13 shirt in the continuing absence of O’Driscoll.
Stephen Ferris, like Kearney, was starting to show the form that made him a key part of the Lions three years ago, whilst Heaslip did what was expected of him, despite losing the personal battle with Parisse.
The match has not taught us anything we didn’t know. When Ireland fancy it they can put a side under pressure and score tries. The talent in the back line is a stark contrast to the Italians. They continue to play to their strengths, which is almost exclusively the pack, as the hunt for a half back pairing goes on. It was a win everyone expected and hopefully we give Ireland the momentum they need as they go into three weeks of away fixtures, starting with that game in a, fingers crossed, warmer Paris.
IRELAND (17) 42
Tries: Earls, Bowe 2, Court, Trimble Cons: Sexton 4 Pens: Sexton 3
ITALY (10) 10
Try: Parisse Con: Botes Pen: Botes
Ireland : 15-Kearney, 14-Bowe, 13-Earls, 12-D’Arcy, 11-Trimble, 10-Sexton, 9-Murray; 1-Healy, 2-Best, 3-Ross, 4-O’Callaghan, 5-O’Connell (c), 6-Ferris, 7-O’Brien, 8-Heaslip.
Replacements: 16-Cronin, 17-Court, 18-Ryan, 19-O’Mahony, 20-Reddan, 21-O’Gara, 22-McFadden.
Italy : 15-Masi, 14-Venditti, 13-Benvenuti, 12-Sgarbi, 11-McLean, 10-Botes, 9-Gori; 1-Rizzo, 2-Ghiraldini, 3-Cittadini, 4-Geldenhuys, 5-Bortolami, 6-Zanni, 7-Barbieri, 8-Parisse (c).
Replacements: 16-D’Apice, 17-Staibano, 18-Pavanello, 19-Favaro, 20-Semenzato, 21-Burton, 22-Canale.
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