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Ireland brush Italy aside

08th March 2014 16:26

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Johnny Sexton Ireland 2014 edited 1

Two tries: Jonathan Sexton

Ireland have built a healthy lead at the top of the Six Nations standings thanks to a 46-7 victory over Italy at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

In Brian O'Driscoll's final Test on home soil, the men in green outscored their visitors seven tries to one to further bolster their points difference ahead on next weekend's trip to Paris.

A brace from Jonny Sexton, combined with tries from Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath saw a focused Ireland overcome a robust Italian side on an emotional day for Irish rugby.

The visitors had given Ireland an early scare with an excellent try by wing Leonardo Sarto, converted by Luciano Orquera, but were unable to spoil the Irish party.

O'Driscoll was phenomenal in his final home game, and gave Irish fans a reminder of the sublime skill they'll miss next season. But his team-mates deserve immense credit for giving the icon the Dublin send off he deserves.

Ireland made the livelier start, holding onto the ball through several phases. The host showed an admirable intent to move the ball early on.

The hosts dominated possession in the opening five minutes, but the Azzurri defence was pretty resolute. The man of the moment ignited proceedings on six minutes when a lovely wrap around from O'Driscoll to Sexton carved open the Italian defence for the Irish fly-half to touch down. Sexton converted to make it 7-0.

The visitors responded well, though, with Orquera orchestrating some good handling in midfield. The men in blue were finding some holes in Ireland's much vaunted defence. Tito Tebaldi was also finding some space for his outside backs from the scrum-half channel.

The hosts regrouped, however, and gained some continuity in their opponents' half, but were undone by basic errors. Ireland's cause was also not helped when Conor Murray was forced to exit the field on 16 minutes.

There was a feeling that Ireland were the superior side, but they just couldn't break down the tenacious visitors. And the Azzurri got a thoroughly deserved reward on 24 minutes when Sarto scored a well-taken try having evaded Rob Kearney's desperate covering tackle. Oquera converted to equalise the score at 7-7.

But Sexton restored Ireland's lead on 31 minutes to settle his side's nerves. It was the least the hosts deserved following a period of concerted pressure. But again Luke McLean was finding unexpected holes in Ireland's defensive line.

It was their great centre that initiated Ireland's breakthrough on 36 minutes when a superb pass put Trimble away in the corner. Sexton duly added the extras to make it 17-7 to the Emerald Isle.

Although the game had become quite unstructured at times, by half time Ireland were starting to achieve some ascendancy over their stubborn opponents.

The second half began with Ireland clearly determined to break the shackles. A fracas on 47 minutes involving captains Paul O'Connell and Marco Bortolami demonstrated the way in which the physicality on display from both sides was always threatening to spill over. In the first five minutes of the half, the hosts were essentially camped in the Italian half.

And prop Healy deservedly got over the whitewash for the men in green on 52 minutes when Eoin Reddan tapped and went from a five-metre penalty. Once the ball went to ground, Healy picked up, and crashed over the line. It was to be the loosehead's final act of the match. Sexton missed the conversion, however.

The game began to loosen up thereafter, with Ireland's backs finding some welcome space. The brilliant O'Driscoll was undoubtedly at the centre of everything his team did well, and it was his pass that fed Rob Kearney, who in turn put Sexton over for his second try on 59 minutes. The Irish ten missed another conversion to leave it 27-7.

The ovation was completely deafening when O'Driscoll left the field on 62 minutes, his job having been superbly done. Substitute hooker Sean Cronin added to the home tally on 68 minutes when he barged over in the left hand corner. Replacement Paddy Jackson converted to make it 34-7.

Italy tried to regain a foothold in the game, but lacked the incision to threaten the Irish defence.

Fergus McFadden got in on the act on 77 minutes, when he sliced through the Azzurri midfield to score with adding the extras.

And an evocative occasion was rounded off appropriately, when replacement prop Jack McGrath crashed off for his first try for his country to complete the rout.

Following a resonant day for Irish sport, Ireland and O'Driscoll head to Paris for a tilt at the championship. On this form, anything is possible.

Man of the Match: Who else? His former Leinster teammate Sexton pushed him close, but Brian O'Driscoll was simply outstanding on his final Irish outing at the Aviva Stadium. His passing was sublime, while the centre's work-rate was the equal of anyone else on the pitch. Brilliant performance.

Moment of the Match: O'Driscoll's lovely switch with Sexton to set up the fly-half's opening try exemplifies everything that defines the great centre's brilliance. It could have been a score from ten years ago, as O'Driscoll's creativity and intelligence unlocked a Six Nations defence.

Villain of the Match: No villains as both sides gave their all in a compelling contest.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries:Sexton 2, Trimble, Healy, Cronin, McFadden, McGrath
Cons: Sexton 2, Jackson 2
Pen: Sexton,

For Italy:
Try: Sarto
Con: Orquera

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quentin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 David Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Andrea Masi.

Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzčre (France), Greg Garner (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Andrew Cole (Australia)

By Rory McGimpsey
@RoryMcGimpsey

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