By Bea Asprey
In a nutshell
ITALY MADE history as they beat Ireland for the first time in the RBS 6 Nations at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, on Saturday. In what has been widely suspected to be Brian O’Driscoll’s last Test match for Ireland, the iconic centre was sent to the sin bin for a stamp on Simone Favaro – a mark of the frustration that is being felt throughout the Irish camp. The visitors were decimated by injury, with Keith Earls and Luke Marshall the first pair to go off around the half hour mark, while Peter O’Mahony finished the game on the wing as Luke Fitzgerald also left the field hurt.
Italy failed to take their chances in the first 40 minutes, and had achieved a slim 3-point lead by half-time, but a try from Gio Venditti rewarded their pressure early in the second half and Ireland were never able to catch them.
Italy’s domination of possession was finally rewarded by a try in the 48th minute when, after several phases, winger Venditti drove over and grounded the ball. Luciano Orquera kicked the conversion to extend Italy’s lead to 16-6, and though Paddy Jackson kicked three penalties to cut the deficit to one point, Ireland never regained the lead.
Star man – Alessandro Zanni
Headlines will go to retiring prop Andrea Lo Cicero, but it’s impossible to ignore the blindside’s ball carrying for the second week in a row. Jamie Heaslip was aware of Zanni’s threat before the game, but the visitors were unable to stop him disrupting their bid for victory as he made more metres than any other player – 68 – and won the most lineouts (three).
Ireland’s lineout stats tell a story in themselves, as they won just five (Italy won ten) and lost four (Italy one) on their own throw, and enjoyed a slim 56% success rate to Italy’s 91%. Their scrum, however, had a 100% success rate (Italy’s had 80%), but they made just one offload compared to Italy’s six, missed 15 tackles to Italy’s nine.
Ireland have suffered a staggering number of injuries, and it remains to be seen whether Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe and Jonathan Sexton will recover in time to go Down Under. One man who is certain to grace Australia is O’Driscoll, provided the citing officer doesn’t stop him from going on a fourth tour. Click here to see the incident from Saturday’s game.
Elsewhere on the field, Jamie Heaslip has gone quiet having retained the captain’s armband for this tournament, while Conor Murray has put his hand up for a plane ticket with his improved leadership over the last two weeks. Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney are tipped to tour but will be left fighting for Test places. Ireland’s front row – Mike Ross, Rory Best and Cian Healy – should also see red this summer, with Best set to become a Test Lion.
Italy Try: Venditti Con: Orquera Pens: Orquera (4) Garcia
Ireland Pens: Jackson (5)