Ireland . . . 16; Italy . . . 11
There was a very unusual end to this match with the Italian fans seeming to enjoy the result more even though they lost.
In the closing minutes of the game there were many supporters leaving the ground early, not being content with the Irish win nor the team’s performance.
A sell out crowd for a match that probably featured the weakest team of the Six Nations championship showed still great support for the national team after the World Cup debacle.
The same problems remain, however: the team showed a lack of confidence after a failure to convert possession into enough scores beyond the first quarter of the game.
Some early penalties by out-half Ronan O’Gara promised a reasonable points victory as the men in green coasted ahead early on.
With the continuing pressure on the Italians, one felt a try was virtually assured. After some half-back runs failed to make sufficient ground, eventually number 15 Girvan Dempsey did the needful, running onto a fine pass by winger Andrew Trimble following a great kick on by O’Gara which saw the ball land nicely for the Ulster winger, back on the team after a change out wide.
A great move earlier later could have seen a further try but a bad passing movement between Geordan Murphy and full-back Dempsey saw the ball go to ground.
One player who was doing great work was scrum-half Eoin Reddan. While other departments may have not been performing to their full potential, he was making incisive runs and but there was a lack of support and breaks off the ball. The Wasps’ number 9 may have had suffered a disappointing club defeat a week earlier against Munster, but he did not let that bother him.
It was the general view that the Munster forwards did not play anything like they did in the European Heineken Cup the previous month. The Italian front row and line-out jumpers did great work; many of them play in France and are familiar with tough forward tactics.
The Italian number was throwing punches from early on in the match and it was inevitable that he would get caught. However, though he saw the sin bin, Ireland couldn’t make their numerical advantage count.
A penalty reply from David Bortolussi, the Italian full-back, suggested that the Azzurri were not dead and buried at half-time. They duly came back out with renewed vigour, substituting Delappe and with some more fresh legs they gave a tiring Irish pack plenty to worry about. They also performed well in the line-out, keeping ball and putting together a succession of rolling mauls.
Easterby got sin-binned and the Italians dominated more, and eventually secured a pushover try that the video camera found hard to pick out; a missed conversion saw the score at 13-8 and memories of the World Cup began to resurface.
O’Gara kept Ireland ahead through judicious kicking and an additional penalty saw the home side’s lead increase to 16-8, which the Italians reduced to just five by the finish as they piled on the pressure. Ireland held out – but only just.
On reflection, the Irish pack did not seem sufficiently motivated, with the Munster players not showing the same level of commitment. The red jersey of Munster seems to have some miracle powers not replicated with the green one.
O’Gara and Reddan did very well, as did Richard Wallace but the rest of the team need to up their game for the clash against France this coming weekend.
Given the great display of winger Clerc against Scotland last Sunday, the man who was thorn in Irish sides on the last two occasions the teams met could be seen as a good bet to notch up a few more tries at the Stade de France.
Wales’ defeat of England still leaves the prospect of another triple crown but the odds of Ireland getting a result in Paris are now long to say the least.