Nick Mallett’s Italy gave a spirited display but were ultimately beaten 16-11 at Croke Park.
Azzuri fullback David Bortolussi slotted an important penalty in the 70th minute to pick up the bonus point, but had he not missed an earlier penalty and conversion it may have been a different ball game. Ronan O’Gara also missed a penalty in the dying minutes, a goal which would have shut the Italians out. Fortunately for the hosts, Italy’s final attack came to nought.
It was a forgettable first quarter for the Italians. Their scrumming was poor and they lacked intensity at the breakdown. Halfbacks Andrea Masi and Pietro Travagli struggled to generate any go forward as a result, and the backline defending was woeful as Irish players fond ample space out wide and scrumhalf Eoin Reddan sniped around the fringes. O’Gara piled on the pressure through several cross kicks, one which Andrew Trimble regathered and offloaded to Girvan Gempsey for the first try.
This is not to say it was a pretty performance by the men in green. They spurned early opportunities through sloppy handling and their line-out looked a mess without lock Paul O’Connell or hooker Jerry Flannery. After obtaining a 10-0 lead, they won a player-advantage through the sin-binning of Italian lock Santiago DellapÃ©. However, it was the visitors who benefitted from this instance, going to the shed having closed the gap to 10-3.
The shoddy Irish hands continued in the second stanza, and to compound matters flanker Simon Easterby was yellow-carded in the 49th minute. The Italians failed to capitalise, but gained in confidence as the match wore on, scoring from a rolling maul through captain Sergio Parisse. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were unable to threaten the Ireland defence with any regularity.
Apart from their limp overall start to the Six Nations coach Eddie O’Sullivan will have to do without Gordon D’Arcy for the rest of the tournament. The Irish centre left the field in the first period and it was later confirmed he had suffered a stress fracture to his forearm. Although Mallet will concede his side require plenty of work, the same could be said for O’Sullivan’s. Ireland can forget about their Six Nations or Grand Slam ambitions if they continue to operate at this mediocre level.
Ireland - Tries: Girvan Dempsey. Conversion: Ronan O’Gara. Penalties: O’Gara (3).
Italy – Try: Sergio Parisse. Penalties: David Bortolussi (2).