Ireland succumbed to a first defeat to Italy in the RBS 6 Nations after an indisciplined afternoon at the Stadio Olimpico.
If, as expected, this was to be Brian O’Driscoll‘s last match for Ireland it was not the way to end such a celebrated career as the finest player his country has produced. Apart from the result, O’Driscoll spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for stamping and was fortunate to escape a red card for an offence that is sure to result in a suspension.
From an early stage the Irish were in disarray, plugging holes left by injury and crumbling before a fired-up Italian side inspired by their omnipresent skipper Sergio Parisse and retiring prop Andrea Lo Cicero. Lo Cicero, Italy’s most capped player who was appearing in his final Test, drank in the applause as he departed in the final quarter and he could have envisaged few better outcomes than today’s for his send-off.
It was only the second time that the Azzurri had finished the Six Nations with two victories and the result will surely spell the end of Ireland head coach Declan Kidney, whose contract expires in the summer. Once more Kidney was left firefighting a staggering succession of injuries that accounted for wing Keith Earls and centre Luke Marshall after only 25 minutes. Substitute Luke Fitzgerald then limped off shortly before half-time and having run out of three-quarter replacements other than scrum-half Paul Marshall, flanker Peter O’Mahony was deployed on the left wing.
It was a disastrous situation that perfectly summed up a chaotic Six Nations, but even allowing for the injury situation it is doubtful that defeat to Italy will be deemed acceptable to Kidney’s Irish Rugby Football Union paymasters. Wing Giovanbattista Venditti burrowed over for the game’s only try in the 49th minute, but Italy could have finished with several more and were grateful that Luciano Orquera and Gonzalo Garcia had brought their kicking boots.
The petulance that swept into Ireland’s game was disappointing with Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray following O’Driscoll into the sin-bin, with the place kicking of Paddy Jackson – who finished with all 15 of his side’s points – as one of the few positives. Jackson was soon into the swing of things when referee Wayne Barnes penalised the Azzurri for offside, the Ulster fly-half obliging with the three points.
Ireland were at panic stations in the 14th minute when they were pushed back to their whitewash by a line-out catch and drive and only desperate defending and a penalty kept Italy at bay with Orquera on target to level the score. A scrum-half break from Edoardo Gori, that saw him combine superbly with Parisse, was evidence that the Azzurri’s confidence was growing. Orquera struck the left upright with a second penalty but was successful with a third, giving Italy a lead they fully deserved.
Time and again the Azzurri broke the gainline with Parisse prominent and in one glorious moment a long line of blue shirts was spread before the posts only for a lazy pass from Orquera to ruin the chance. Jackson missed a tricky penalty and Ireland’s problems deepened when O’Driscoll was sin-binned for stamping on flanker Simone Favaro. Once more the visiting defence looked set to crack but Italy were betrayed by their composure at a crucial moment.
A monster penalty from centre Garcia ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over, but Jackson replied on the stroke of half time amid a deafening chorus of boos from home fans irate at Barnes’ failure to punish Rob Kearney for shoving Luke McClean in the face. The one-way traffic continued to flow towards the Irish line and inevitably they cracked, wing Venditti burrowing beneath a pile of green shirts to score a try that was confirmed by the TMO. The near-touchline conversion was landed by Orquera, giving Italy a 10-point lead, but Parisse was sin-binned for tripping substitute Ian Madigan and in his absence Jackson kicked two penalties.
The final quarter began with an all-out assault on the Italian line with O’Mahony and wing Craig Gilroy making the biggest inroads. The Azzurri infringed in front of the posts, allowing Jackson to kick his fifth penalty, but Parisse returned to the fray to steady the ship. Gori came crashing down to the turf, landing on his head, after colliding with Devin Toner but the scrum-half eventually rose to his feet and Barnes was correct to leave Toner unpunished. Ryan was shown a yellow card and Orquera dispatched a long-range three points, before Murray then followed his Munster colleague into the sin-bin for an off-the ball challenge.
Orquera hit another excellent penalty six minutes later to make it 19-15, and, with the partisan home crowd roaring them on, they forced another penalty in the last minute. The flyhalf sealed the victory with an easy kick over the posts to make it 22-15 and give the home side an historic win.
- Italy 22-15 Ireland (oddonion.com)