Thursday 30 March 2017

Ireland's sluggish start

Gordon D'Arcy looks to break the tackles of Craig Gower and Riccardo Bocchino
Gordon D'Arcy looks to break the tackles of Craig Gower and Riccardo Bocchino
Kevin McLaughlin takes the ball in the lineout in Croke Park yesterday
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland got their defence of the Grand Slam and Championship off to a sluggish but successful start in perfect conditions at Croke Park yesterday.

It was the third last game Ireland are scheduled to play at GAA's HQ and the 77, 686 crowd went home disappointed that what had been shaping up for a handsome win -- Ireland were 23-8 ahead at half-time -- ended short of the target.

"We had a job to do and we went out and did it," man of the match David Wallace said afterwards. "It was a very physical game up front. It's good to get a win under our belts. I think in fairness to Italy, they never gave up. Of course you want to score more tries but that would be a disservice to Italy."

Key players Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara left the field injured although at this stage there is no great concern over their availability for Paris on Saturday. O'Connell was having difficulty with his vision and O'Gara got a bang on his knee. He was able to continue briefly before going off.

"Ronan is feeling okay and Paul just got a bang around the eye," Declan Kidney said afterwards. "There's a bit of swelling there but you'd imagine that would be okay. Andrew's (Trimble) hamstring is a little bit tight. Pretty much the others were tactical substitutions. There's always some small doubt but I wouldn't be overly concerned right now. They're not presenting themselves too badly. I'd imagine they will be training on Monday."

O'Gara was replaced by Paddy Wallace, who kicked a penalty on 66 minutes for Ireland's final score. Italy restricted Kidney's side to a 6-3 margin in the second half. With Leinster's Jonnny Sexton expected to be fit for Paris, Kidney should have three out-halves available to him provided O'Gara's knee injury responds to treatment.

Rory Best also made a successful start to international rugby having had a neck operation last summer. His rehabilitation, and the fact that Jerry Flannery seems to have left his fitness issues behind him, gives the coach some comfort in an area that was looking critical a few weeks ago.

"Rory more than deserved his chance because he has done extraordinarily well to be where he is," Kidney said. "It's handy to have the two of them. We're delighted with the win. Are we overly excited with our performance? Not so. But if you're going to let yourself get frustrated every time you'll never enjoy your sport and we intend to do that.

"I think if you look at this year's game compared to last year there isn't a whole lot of difference except last year we managed to get two intercept tries. That was 14 points last year. This year Italy played a more pressure game on us and those opportunities didn't come our way. We know that we have a heap of work to do before next week."

France play Scotland in Murrayfield this afternoon before facing Ireland -- who have only won twice in Paris since the War -- on Saturday. Kidney will announce the team for that game on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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