IRELAND TORE ITALY to shreds in the closing stages of an otherwise hard fought Six Nations encounter at Lansdowne Road. Brian O’Driscoll was the star of the show as he set up three tries for his side — two for Jonny Sexton — and inspired his team to a huge victory. The points difference means Ireland are well set for a championship decider with France, in Paris, next weekend.
O’Driscoll betrayed few signs — bar a long exhale after Amhrán na bhFiann — that the occasion would get to him. So it proved after eight minutes as he linked up with Sexton for a fantastic switcharound that sent the out-half scampering unmolested into the 22. He converted his try after brushing off a brusque Italian shoulder block when dotting the ball down.
Ireland’s rolling maul and scrum was in dominant form but they could not find a second score for settle them. Scrum-half Conor Murray trudged off [illness not injury ending his involvement] and the visitors surprised their hosts by running the ball as much as possible. Luciano Orquera and Luke McLean looked threatening but Ireland failed to heed the warning.
Italy captain Marco Bortolami delivered a huge hit on Andrew Trimble and the ball broke to Leonardo Sarto. He evaded an O’Driscoll ankle tap attempt, rode a weak Rob Kearney tackle and cut inside Dave Kearney to stun the home support. The conversion made it 7-7 going past the half hour mark.
Ireland regrouped and sought to build scoreboard pressure as they were awarded a penalty close to the Italian line. Sexton knocked over a penalty yet more was to follow. O’Driscoll featured three times in a 40-metre drive into the Italian 22 and the outside centre popped a pass to Trimble to dive over in the left-hand corner.
Ireland led 17-7 at half-time and heaved into their opponents from the Nigel Owens’ restart whistle. Italy, in an attempt to spark themselves, sparked a dust-up near halfway and scrum-half Tito Tebaldi was warned for a headlock on Paul O’Connell. Joe Schmidt’s men kept their focus and Sexton was ordered to kick for the line as points accumulation came into view.
With 52 minutes on the clock and pressure starting to tell, the Irish maul made ground, O’Connell drew in two blue shirts, allowing Cian Healy to take possession and bash over. Sexton missed his conversion from the touchline as Schmidt began to clear his bench.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The best, however, was yet to come as O’Driscoll instigated another attack into the Italian half. The first foray broke down before lively Eoin Reddan kept play ticking over. O’Driscoll was tackled hard but kept his wits about him to swirl off a stunning offload to Dave Kearney, who showed great hands to set up Sexton for his second try.
Source: RTE/RBS 6 Nations
The tries flowed in the final 15 minutes as Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath all ran in scores. Ireland’s points difference is an impressive 61 to the good over nearest rivals England ahead of the weekend’s two other Six Nations matches.
Championship thoughts can wait for another day. O’Driscoll’s home-town farewell is foremost in Irish minds. What a way to go out.
Tries: Sexton (2), Trimble, Healy, Cronin, McFadden, McGrath
Conversions: Sexton (2), Jackson (2). Penalty: Sexton
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Ireland: R Kearney, A Trimble, B O’Driscoll (F McFadden), G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson), C Murray (E Reddan): C Healy (J McGrath), R Best (S Cronin), M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell (Capt.), I Henderson (R Ruddock), C Henry (J Murphy), J Heaslip.
Italy: L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Masi), L Sarto; L Orquera (T Allan), T Tebaldi (E Gori); A de Marchi (M Rizzo), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortalami (capt.) (A Pavanello); J Furno, P Derbyshire (M Vosawai), R Barbieri.
Referee: N Owens.