Did Ireland look like champions yesterday?
Published 09/03/2014 | 14:02
Did Ireland do enough in their victory over Italy in Dublin to prove they will be claim the Six Nations crown in Paris?
Ireland were both sloppy and clinical in the first half, guilty perhaps of trying too hard to rack up points and put on a show for Brian O'Driscoll's Dublin swansong.
Multiple handling errors and poor decisions were interspersed with inspired blind passes, with O'Driscoll's pop off the shoulder to Jonny Sexton for Ireland's first the pick of the bunch.
They did not make much use of their much vaunted rolling maul in the first half, although cracked it out to good effect after the interval.
Ireland were still fairly ragged in the second half but you can't argue with 27 unanswered points.
O'Driscoll was instrumental here, too, committing to rucks and securing plenty of ball for the hosts.
One trademark tackle at the start of the second half, from which he rose quickly and got over on the ball, won Ireland a penalty.
But Italy always looked a threat from open play. Sarto fully deserved his try, even if it owed a lot to a sliced hack from O'Driscoll and a missed tackle by Rob Kearney.
Only some last-ditch tackling prevented further scores. Will need to sharpen up defensively for the trip to Paris.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
The influential Conor Murray departed the scene with barely quarter of an hour gone, Eoin Reddan replacing him.
The Leinster scrum-half looked sharp, almost scoring off a quick break after 29 minutes, but with Ireland seemingly intent on playing an unstructured, high intensity game, he often found his path to ball blocked.
The game broke up still further in the second half as the usual raft of substitutions were made, but by then Italy were out on their feet.
Three of the replacements - Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath - got themselves on the scoresheet. Impressive.
Despite assurances in the build-up that they would not allow the occasion to get to them, Ireland looked at times as if they were trying to force the pace, striving to match the intensity of a fortnight ago against Wales but without the accuracy.
Paul O'Connell got caught up in some handbags with Tebaldi in the second half, earning a ticking off from Nigel Owens.
The game descended into a carnival late on, with both teams tiring and the TV producers intent on milking the crowd's applause by zooming in on O'Driscoll.