By Bea Asprey, Rugby World Writer
In a nutshell
Having not played a match for three weeks, Ireland looked nervous as they came out of the Aviva Stadium blocks, but they exerted consistent pressure on their opponents and were rewarded with five tries. The hosts were penalised within kicking distance a number of times, but luckily for them it was not Italian fly-half Tobias Botes’s day with the boot. Man of the Match Jonathan Sexton, on the other hand, was successful with seven out of eight kicks at goal, notching up a total of 18 points.
Centre Gordon D’Arcy’s break in the 13th minute was Ireland’s first assault on Italy’s line, and the men in green were relentless throughout the contest. Though Italy had their moment of glory, as Sergio Parisse scored under the posts five minutes before the half-time break, Ireland had the last laugh of the half thanks to a try from Tommy Bowe.
Jonathan Sexton was the official Man of the Match, but full-back Rob Kearney proved a dangerous weapon in attack, running round a number of his Italian opponents to create opportunities for his team-mates.
Room for improvement
Ireland travel to Paris knowing there is much to improve on, and though Keith Earls scored in the 17th minute and Bowe in the 39th, Ireland were frustrated that they could not convert more of their pressure into points in the first half. The game was largely played in Ireland’s half, prompting Declan Kidney to say: “There was a bit of wearing down that had to be done in the first 50 minutes, as there are in all Test matches.
“We could probably have done a little more of that in their half rather than ours, but I can’t fault the boys for trying to play.
“We had the courage to play, but what we need to do is get the balance right. That comes with playing together and the more time we spend together the better we’ll become.
“But can’t go away thinking everything’s great just because we scored a few late tries.”
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell: “We have a lot of excellent and classy players and we took our tries well, which was satisfying. It was a good, patient performance. It’s great to get that result going to Paris, so we’re probably in a better place than we were the last time we went over.”
Italy coach Jacques Brunel: “We had two different teams out there. In the first half we tried to play and kept the score close. But in the second half it was completely different, we suffered beneath the Irish pressure and made many mistakes.”
Veteran fly-half Ronan O’Gara came on in the 70th minute to win his 118th Ireland cap, and overtaking Brian O’Driscoll to become Ireland’s most-capped player.
Click here to watch match highlights
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls (Fergus McFadden 68), Gordon D’Arcy (Ronan O’Gara 70), Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan 54); Cian Healy (Tom Court 70), Rory Best (Sean Cronin 70), Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan (Donncha Ryan 59), Paul O’Connell (capt), Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien (Peter O’Mahony 59), Jamie Heaslip.
Tries (5): Earls, Bowe (2), Court, Trimble. Cons (4) Sexton. Pens (3): Sexton.
Italy: Andrea Masi; Giovanbattista Venditti, Tomasso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi (Gonzalo Javier Canale 63), Luke McLean; Tobias Botes (Kristopher Burton 59), Edoardo Gori (Fabio Semenzato 72); Michele Rizzo, Leonardo Ghiraldini (Tommaso D’Apice 72), Lorenzo Cittadini (Fabio Staibano 68), Quintin Geldenhuys (Antonio Pavanello 59), Marco Bortolami, Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri (Simone Favaro 63), Sergio Parisse (capt).
Try: Parisse. Con: Botes. Pen: Botes.
Referee: Craig Joubert