An appalling display from English referee Dave Pearson let Ireland off the hook against Italy in Dublin on Saturday.
The home side won 26-16, but the match will be remembered more for the inept display of Pearson, who blew his first (and hopefully last) Six Nations match.
Pearson’s decision to award a second-half try to Ireland, when replays showed that winger Tommy Bowe failed to ground the ball, turned the match in the home side’s favour. Several Italian players pleaded with Pearson to check the score with the TV ref, a request which was stubbornly refused.
Up until that point, Italy had dominated the match, and were full value for their 13-10 lead.
The Italians took control of the game from the first kick-off and were five metres out from their opposition’s tryline when an Irish hand knocked the ball out of Italy scrumhalf Paul Griffen’s grasp. The Italians should have had a shot at goal from right in front – instead Pearson gave Ireland a scrum for the ‘knock on’.
Still, Italy dominated possession, disrupted the Irish line-out and took a 3-0 lead when Pez slotted a penalty after 11 minutes.
Ireland went in front against the run of play on the 25-minute mark, when Paul O’Connell stole an Italian line-out inside the visitors’ 22, from which debutant hooker Jerry Flannery was driven over.
If Ireland expected Italian resistance to crumble, as it’s done so often in the past after a good start, they were to be disappointed. With 10 minutes remaining before half-time, Pez broke the line, sold Gordon D’Arcy a dummy and offloaded to centre Mirco Bergamasco, whose momentum carried him over the tryline.
At 10-7, Italy were looking good heading into half-time, before Pearson decided to involve himself again. The referee gave Italian flyhalf Ramiro Pez a yellow card, two minutes before the break, for an alleged late tackle. The TV replay showed the Englishman had been far too harsh and Pez’s reponse (“F**k you”) said it all. O’Gara made no mistake with the penalty and the teams went into the changerooms locked at 10-all.
Playing against 14 men, Bowe ‘scored’ early in the second half to give Ireland an undeserved 17-13 lead, before an O’Gara penalty extended his side’s advantage to seven.
Pez and O’Gara traded penalties to make it 23-16 going into the final 10 minutes. However, the Italian No 10 missed a golden opportunity to reduce the gap to three points, and when O’Gara nailed a penalty three minutes before full-time it was game over.
Italy coach Pierre Berbizier slammed Pearson’s decision to award Bowe’s try.
“Pearson seemed very sure it was a try but he had the opportunity to use the video and should have taken it,” he said. “The Irish try should have been examined on replays and disallowed. At that point the match was changing and it was a big decision. I cannot accept Pearson giving the try.
“We want to play the game with the same rights as other teams. We can’t play with a handicap like this. We are a little team but must be treated the same as other sides.”
Ireland – Tries: Jerry Flannery, Tommy Bowe. Conversions: Ronan O’Gara (2). Penalties: O’Gara (4).
Italy – Try: Mirco Bergamasco. Conversion: Romiro Pez. Penalties: Pez (2), Paul Griffen.
Yellow card: Romiro Pez (38min)