Ireland survived a real scare on Saturday as a Ronan O'Gara drop-goal sealed a 13-11 win that broke Italian hearts at the Stadio Flaminio.
Ireland survived a massive scare on Saturday as a Ronan O'Gara drop-goal sealed a 13-11 win that broke Italian hearts at the Stadio Flaminio.
Played under glorious sunshine, this was always going to be a banana skin that needed avoiding for Ireland. And boy was it difficult to negate.
With just two minutes separating the Azzurri from an historic first win over their visitors, replacement fly-half O'Gara save travelling Irish blushes.
Italy had frustrated the Emerald Isle for much of the contest and actually went in 6-3 up at the interval thanks to two Mirco Bergamasco shots. However much like in 2007 and 2009, it was an early storm that needed weathering for the Irish.
Brian O'Driscoll it was who turned things around for Ireland with a try on 44 minutes, but even he endured a difficult day as a couple of try-scoring passes went astray.
It was that sort of game for Ireland. Frustrating and stuttered. But the job was done ahead of a home clash with France next week, as a possible Grand Slam decider moves a step closer when England arrive on Saturday, March 19.
Our preview had sighted the battle at number eight at being one to watch and that was an early eye-catcher when Sean O'Brien showed power and pace to elude a couple of Italian chasers. But he was to outdone soon after by Sergio Parisse who, back in the Six Nations after a year's break, showed his worth by winning his side a penalty on seven minutes.
Ireland looked a tad rattled and were throwing many wayward passes while struggling to penetrate the blue defensive wall. The Azzurri were showing a lot of hunger and even with the departure of injured number nine and organiser Edoardo Gori, they were streetwise.
On 20 minutes, the change in momentum finally came for Declan Kidney's side as Luke Fitzgerald's break down the left from halfway saw him step inside and feed Jonathan Sexton. However, the latter Leinsterman couldn't keep hold, leading to a lesson being handed to the Irish front-row by Martin Castrogiovanni and company.
Ireland eventually levelled matter eight minutes later as Kris Burton started to miss his touch-finders but that did not stop Italy going in at the break in front thanks to Bergamasco.
If truth be told, the first 40 was hardly memorable. The second was. Ireland had obviously been given a rollicking by their coaching staff and promptly took it on board as Denis Leamy ran hard to set up a score just three minutes after half-time.
Back and forth Ireland went on the Azzurri ten-metre line before the ball came out to O'Driscoll, who spotted a mismatch against Castrogiovanni. There was only one winner and it looked as though the procession of last year was about to be repeated.
A successful conversion from Sexton made the scores 10-6 but the game proved far from done when a lovely flowing move from Italy saw Luke McLean go over right in the corner. Unfortunately for the Rome faithful, Bergamasco's extras went painfully left of the upright and that proved costly as substitute O'Gara sat back when it mattered to break home hearts.
Man-of-the-match: An extremely tough decision as no one really stepped up for Ireland but for his solidity under the high ball and decent running, it goes to Luke Fitzgerald.
Pen: Bergamasco 2
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Kris Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Josh Sole, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Santiago Dellape, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Carlo Del Fava, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Gonzalo Garcia.
Ireland: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Sean O'Brien, 7 David Wallace, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Paddy Wallace.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (France), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
By Adam Kyriacou