Tuesday 16 January 2018

Video: Brendan Fanning - Irish capitalise on visitors' old failings

Ireland 42 Italy 10

Tommy Bowe scores the first of his two tries against Italy
Tommy Bowe scores the first of his two tries against Italy
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It's not easy to get excited about a fixture that has become so lopsided that Italy think of the trip to Dublin with even less enthusiasm than Ireland board a plane for Paris. And when the kick-off is at lunchtime then you have stadium announcers trying too hard to create something that isn't there.

As ever in this new stadium, where Ireland still have lost more than they have won, pleasing the crowd is not easy either. With five minutes to the break it looked like they would be spending half-time complaining about the fact that the home team couldn't string together enough decent rugby to be in front. As it turned out, they went in ahead. And at the end the punters had five tries to chew on -- a bonus of sorts in a competition that doesn't do bonus points.

The attraction of it all for Declan Kidney was that his team go to Paris with a win immediately behind them. You wonder what would it have been like yesterday had they faced Italy with back-to-back defeats in their rear-view mirror, for in truth the coach was delighted to get out of France two weeks ago without that baggage. Well, you mightn't wonder about it for too long, for Italy -- as they were when the teams met in Dunedin in the World Cup -- are no nearer beating Ireland now than they were when the losing sequence started in 1999.

The killer stat for them is the never-ending search that has seen 14 men wear the number 10 shirt since the outstanding Diego Dominguez called it a day in 2003. Yesterday, Tobias Botes became their fourth in five months and he looks nowhere closer to satisfying their demands than any of the others. Under Jacques Brunel, Italy are trying to play a game that is beyond them -- not much beyond them, but out of reach nonetheless.

Ireland, meantime, are caught between having a pattern and playing -- forgive the phrase -- heads-up rugby. The result is that they lose shape pretty quickly, so you get the likes of Conor Murray picking and posing to pass one way only to discover that the direction has changed.

Murray was getting a bit of flak afterwards, on the basis that Ireland looked sharper when Eoin Reddan came on. Certainly Reddan put pace on the game -- once he got his pass sorted out -- but Italy were a different proposition for the last half hour, by which stage they were virtually out of the game at 20-10 down, than they had been to that stage, when Murray was at the coalface. Donnacha Ryan too looked a man apart when he came on -- in his case though you'd love to see his contribution from the start, for his skills are in a different league to Donncha O'Callaghan who trades only in grunt, albeit unrelenting grunt.

As ever in this fixture, Ireland initially looked to satisfy Italy's need for contact, and by the final quarter they were out of sight. The struggle was as much to do with Ireland looking unsure about what they were doing as Italy stopping them from doing it.

The only time you felt the contest might get tasty was when Italy hauled back Ireland's 10-3 lead in the second quarter. It came after Gordon D'Arcy was penalised for going off his feet and Botes, on the very edge of his range, went for goal only to see his shot come back off the crossbar into the hands of Rob Kearney. Immediately they thought seven would look a bit better than three.

This might explain why Sergio Parisse opted to pick from the advancing scrum instead of trundling on for what looked like becoming their third scrum penalty of the half. They got away with it, but it took a mix-up between Kearney and Jonny Sexton to give Italy the ball again, and from that turnover they had Ireland so short-staffed that Parisse could amble around behind the posts for Botes to make it seven. The scenic route, for sure, and having tied the game 10-10 could they keep it that way for the less than five minutes that remained?

Of course not. They cocked up the restart reception and found themselves in defensive mode until the break. And when that whistle came, they were in arrears again. En route to that score Ireland managed to lose their shape a few times without losing the ball, and finally worked an overlap which Kearney and Stephen Ferris exploited to put Tommy Bowe over for the first of his two tries.

It was priceless timing. To score first in the second half would put Ireland on another level, psychologically, and when Botes missed a shot on goal and Sexton -- who nailed seven from eight -- did not, Ireland were 20-10 ahead. Another Sexton penalty emphasised the point, and it was plain sailing to the finish, boosted by the warming breeze of tries for Bowe, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble. It looked like a demolition job. It wasn't quite that. Not at all.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls (F McFadden 68), G D'Arcy (R O'Gara 70), A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 54); C Healy (T Court 70), R Best (S Cronin 70), M Ross, D O'Callaghan (D Ryan 59), P O'Connell (capt), S Ferris, J Heaslip, S O'Brien (P O'Mahony 59)

Italy: A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi (G Canale 64), L McLean; T Botes (K Burton 59), E Gori (F Semenzato 73); M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini (T D'Apice 72), L Cittadini (F Staibano 68), Q Geldenhuys (A Pavanello 59), M Bortolami, A Zanni, S Parisse, R Barbieri (S Favaro 64)

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)

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