Ireland weather Italy storm
February 15, 2009
Tommy Bowe races clear to score Ireland's first try in Rome
© Getty Images
Ireland defeated Italy 38-9 in their Six Nations showdown at the Stadio Flaminio, although both sides will have frustrated their coaches in what was a largely lacklustre spectacle.
Ireland kept their Grand Slam hopes alive thanks to first-half tries from wings Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald before flanker David Wallace, Fitzgerald and skipper Brian O'Driscoll put a gloss on the scoreline in the second period. Fly-half Luke McLean kicked all of Italy's points courtesy of three first-half penalties.
Italy boss Nick Mallett restored Mauro Bergamasco to his usual position on the openside flank following his disastrous stint at scrum-half against England last weekend, with Calvisano's Paul Griffen taking the No.9 shirt. McLean, impressive against England as a replacement for Andrea Marcato, started at fly-half in only his fifth appearance for the national side.
For Ireland, it was a case of more of the same. Declan Kidney selected an identical XV to that which defeated France last weekend, with Ulster's Paddy Wallace continuing at inside-centre alongside O'Driscoll despite the try-scoring return of Gordon D'Arcy last weekend.
Ireland looked to run the ball immediately, but they were stopped in their tracks as Italian fullback Andrea Masi clotheslined his opposite number Rob Kearney. Masi was sent to the sin-bin after only 46 seconds of play, and was somewhat lucky that the card wasn't red.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Italy seized the lead minutes later, when McLean stroked over a languid penalty after Ireland were guilty of not rolling away in the tackle. Ireland began to string together the phases as Masi was restored but the shrill whistle of referee Chris White accompanied the early stages of the game, with eight penalties being awarded in the opening 10 minutes.
Ireland then looked to ratchet up the pressure on Italy following a promising maul, but following a kick to the corner from O'Gara their lineout was read well by Italy skipper Sergio Parisse. Italy broke free with play halting just inside the Irish half before White's whistle again rang out as Ireland were pinged for offside. McLean again confidently converted the kick, giving Italy a handy 6-0 lead after a quarter of an hour.
Griffen began to assert himself on the game soon after, pinning Ireland into the corner with a superbly weighted grubber, emphasising the difference of having a specialist at scrum-half. Ireland dealt with the threat easily, and almost immediately after wing Tommy Bowe was crashing over the Italian line.
Pouncing on a loose Italian pass in midfield, Bowe gathered before setting off on an arrow-straight run for the posts. Leaving defenders trailing in his wake, he rode the final tackle of Masi and used his momentum to plough over. O'Gara added the extras with ease. Instead of consolidating their lead however, Ireland were soon behind again. Lock Donncha O'Callaghan produced a high-tackle on Italy hooker Fabio Ongaro, and McLean made no mistake from in front of the posts.
O'Gara turned down a long-range kick minutes later, instead opting for territory. Ireland's forwards, notably No.8 Jamie Heaslip, carried well into the heart of the Italian defence. The momentum was short-lived again however, as yet another penalty halted their march. Ireland's lot got worse when Ronan O'Gara became the second player to be sent to the sin-bin. After his kick was charged down on half-way by McLean, O'Gara tackled the onrushing Gonzalo Canale without the ball and earned himself ten minutes in the bin. McLean missed his kick at the posts, and Ireland turned to Paddy Wallace as fly-half for the final minutes of the first-half.
It fell to Kearney to take control however, the fullback putting a well judged kick deep into Italian territory. Italy were penalised at the lineout, and Ireland again went to the corner. As the ball came in from Flannery, Italian prop Salvatore Perugini had a nibble at the Irish jumpers in the air and earned himself the game's third yellow card.
Approaching half-time Ireland piled on the pressure, building multiple phases although Peter Stringer, on as a blood replacement for Wallace, was slow with his distribution. A superb hit from Canale slowed Ireland further as they looked to regain the lead, but they worked their way through 19 patient phases before Ulster blindside Stephen Ferris busted through into a gap before feeding wing Luke Fitzgerald who scored under the posts. With Wallace and O'Gara still off the field Kearney stepped up to convert the try, giving Ireland a 14-9 half-time lead.
Gordon D'Arcy replaced Wallace at half-time, the Ulsterman struggling with a cut to the eye sustained against France. O'Gara also returned for the start of the second period, immediately putting Italy under pressure with several probing kicks into the Italian corners.
After several meandering second-half minutes, Ireland burst into life. Heaslip produced another blazing run from the fringes of a ruck, so similar to the burst that saw him score against France, before hauled down inches short of the line by Matteo Pratichetti. Ireland recycled well, but the chance looked to be lost when O'Leary took his time in deciding their options. There was no such inactivity from openside David Wallace however, as he seized upon the ball and powered a hole through the Italy defence to score Ireland's third try. O'Gara converted and stretched Ireland's lead further with a penalty minutes later.
It was indeed Ireland who had the final say with a final flourish. After Ireland had squandered lineout ball, Mirco Bergamasco cleared to just outside his 22. After some swift thinking and a quick throw in, Fitzgerald latched on to the ball and raced away down the touchline to score his second and Ireland's fourth try.
The story was not finished, as moments after the restart O'Driscoll latched on to a loose pass from Masi, racing clear to score a simple interception under the posts with O'Gara slotting the conversion.
Italy: Masi, Robertson, Canale, M. Bergamasco, Pratichetti, McLean, Griffen, Perugini, Ongaro, Castrogiovanni, Dellape, Reato, Zanni, M. Bergamasco, Parisse.
Replacements: Bacchetti for Robertson (20), Garcia for Canale (48), Toniolatti for McLean (72), Festuccia for Ongaro (41), Nieto for Castrogiovanni (33), Del Fava for Dellape (48), Sole for Reato (48).
Sin Bin: Masi (1), Perugini (36).
Ireland: Kearney, Bowe, B. O'Driscoll, P. Wallace, Fitzgerald, O'Gara, O'Leary, Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Ferris, D. Wallace, Heaslip.
Replacements: D'Arcy for P. Wallace (41), Stringer for O'Leary (72), Court for Horan (55), Best for Flannery (60), O'Kelly for O'Connell (77), Leamy for Ferris (62). Not Used: Murphy.
Sin Bin: O'Gara (32).
Man of the Match: Luke Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Referee: Chris White (England)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Romain Poite (France)