Match report: Ireland edge to narrow win over Italy
February 2, 2008
Girvan Dmpsey collects Ronan O'Gara's cross-kick to score
© Getty Images
Ireland scored the first win of the 2008 Six Nations - but they were unable to banish their World Cup nightmare - only edging out Italy 16 -11 thanks mainly to a fine display from half backs Eoin Reddan and Ronan O'Gara.
Girvan Dempsey crossed in the 18th minute to hand Ireland an encouraging start and the kicking of Ronan O'Gara, who finished with 11 points, kept them in command. But dogged Italy hit back through skipper Sergio Parisse in the 61st minute and Ireland were subjected to a nervous final quarter before holding out.
Ronan O'Gara initially set up the try with a crossfield kick and the Munster fly-half also weighed in with the conversion and a penalty. Italy's solitary response was three points from the boot of full-back David Bortolussi.
Early on Brian O'Driscoll, whose form has suffered since the World Cup, grubbered the ball straight to Pablo Canavosio for a poor first touch but Ronan O'Gara's kicking was on hand to settle early Irish nerves. A poor crossfield bomb blotted O'Gara's copybook after Italy full-back David Bortolussi had dropped a towering up-and-under to concede a great field position.
Turnover ball offered Ireland the chance to launch a counter-attack and they responded superbly with Denis Leamy and O'Gara slipping through gaps close to the breakdown. O'Driscoll was on his own when the ball was spun right but a clever chip sent Italy scrambling backwards and Josh Sole was on hand to avert the danger when Trimble came up with the ball.
A penalty from O'Gara nudged Ireland ahead and they should have extended the lead in the 15th minute. This time the crossfield kick worked out as planned with Murphy bursting into space only to direct his pass behind Dempsey as the Leinster full-back romped into open space.
And the same tactic paid dividends in the 18th minute when Ireland scored their first try through Trimble. With inch-perfect precision O'Gara landed the ball in Trimble's hands and the Ulster winger rode Mauro Bergamasco's tackle before finding Dempsey who dashed home.
O'Gara landed the conversion to push Ireland 10-0 ahead and Italy continued to creak as Eoin Reddan made a dashing break. Ireland were growing in confidence with every positive passage of play, shrugging off the baggage of their dismal World Cup.
A bulldozing run from Masi issued a timely reminder that they could not afford to lose concentration, however, and it was only a crab-like run from Gonzalo Canale that let them off the hook. Masi's progress had been halted by Gordon D'Arcy and the little Leinster centre paid the price for his bravery by sustaining an injury to his right arm.
In obvious discomfort, he stalked from the pitch with Rob Kearney slotting in on the wing and Trimble switching to inside centre. Biarritz lock Santiago Dellape was sent to the sin-bin after appearing to throw a punch on the floor as Italy's discipline began to slip.
But far from buckling in the face of Dellape's absence, the Azzurri defended manfully and even produced a penalty through Bortolussi. A power cut five minutes before half-time robbed half of Croke Park of electricity but it did not seem to affect the hosts' half-time plans as they attacked straight from the restart, Reddan darting free from a line-out and O'Driscoll nearly wriggling his way through a congested midfield. But instead of cranking up the pressure, their assault wavered in the face of Italy's dogged resistance and Denis Leamy's decision to take a quick tap penalty when three points were on offer would have angered O'Sullivan.
The ineffective Simon Easterby was sin-binned in the 50th minute for playing the ball after the tackle and his offence was symptomatic of Ireland's ebbing confidence. Organisers were thanking their lucky stars for the early kick-off because with half the stadium lights still off from the power cut a later start would have caused chaos as conditions became increasingly gloomy.
Bortolussi missed a long-range shot at goal but another intelligent break from Reddan put Ireland back on the front foot. Italy frequently used cynical measures to halt Irish attack and one such moment was punished by referee Jonathan Kaplan with O'Gara obliging.
Italy kept plugging away and barged over from a line-out catch and drive, and after many replays the television match official Tim Hayes awarded the try. Sergio Parisse was named as the scorer, with the skipper emerging from beneath a pile of bodies, but Bortolussi could not add the conversion.
O'Gara was more accurate with a penalty but Bortolussi had readjusted his sights and slashed the deficit to 16-11, setting up a tense finish. A first missed kick from O'Gara failed to calm the nerves of home fans but Ireland held on to the ball well in the closing stages to preserve their lead.
Ireland: Tries: Dempsey. Cons: O'Gara. Pens: O'Gara 3.
Italy: Tries: Parisse. Pens: Bortolussi 2.
Att: 75,387 Ref: J Kaplan (South Africa).
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