Six Nations 2005
Ireland off to a winning start in Rome
February 6, 2005
Peter Stringer crosses for Ireland's second score
© Getty Images
Ireland stuttered past a valiant Italy 28-17 in Rome today, as tries from Geordan Murphy, Peter Stringer and Denis Hickie saw the Six Nations favourites victorious in a far-from-comfortable display.
You don't have to tell All-Black legend John Kirwan that tries win you games, but the old adage rung through for his Italian side this afternoon as they almost failed to breach the Irish line for a third straight game. Prop Martin Castrogiovanni's barge over effort in injury time was the least they deserved, as young winger Ludovic Nitoglia was guilty fourteen minutes earlier, of having knocked on over the visitors' line.
On a weekend when Wales ended a 12-year wait for a home defeat of England, Scotland worried a frought France and now, supposed tournament lightweights Italy jangled Irish nerves, the gap between the second tier the top table is ever narrowing.
Add in the fact that both Irish centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy were forced off with worrying injuries, and the championship could be the most open ever.
It took a full 72 minutes before Eddie O'Sullivan's men could go a converted score clear, as Stringer's right wing try - brilliantly set up by an overhead pass from Shane Horgan - and two late penalties from Ronan O'Gara saw them home. Two sizzling line breaks from O'Driscoll - winning for the sixteenth time on his 19th cap as Ireland skipper - effectively handed them the spoils. Three penalties from three though from full-back Roland De Marigny riddled the Irish game with errors, as their expected success was hardly the 'Roman holiday' of previous years.
And if Ireland's pseudo-anthem 'Ireland's Call' was a little off-beat beforehand, there was nothing rhythmless about the Italians' performance in the opening quarter.
They simply ran the show, and but for three penalty goal misses, could have been seven points in front at the break. As it was, Ireland were fortunate to hold an 8-6 buffer, after full-back Murphy's 26th-minute try highlighted a nerve-jangling first half.
Three early missed touches and a scuffed 22-metre drop out from fly-half O'Gara could be put down to the Mitre G ball - always used in the Eternal city due to the Italian Union's contract with the UK sports giant.
O'Gara was finding little favour with the heavier ball and his younger opposite number Luciano Orquera, following a third-minute miss, put the home side deservedly in front on 7 minutes.
Kirwan's powerhouse pack were simply on top, gobbling up 94% of the territory in the opening 12 minutes. The back row set of Mauro Bergamasco, Aaron Persico and Sergio Parisse put in some tireless work, and allied to the snappy feeds of returning 31-year-old pivot Alessandro Troncon, both possession and field gain was theirs.
Argentine-born Orquera almost intercepted a Peter Stringer scrum pass on 14 minutes for the opening try, but a wayward drop goal and second missed penalty on the quarter-hour would have done little for the 23-year-old's confidence.
O'Gara levelled it up at 3-apiece on 22 minutes, arrowing over a 30-metre effort before O'Sullivan's charges lost 2004 Player of the tournament Gordon D'Arcy to a hamstring strain.
Four minutes later, O'Driscoll cut through the home middle on a dummy run with Denis Leamy, and his offload saw Murphy beat Nitoglia in the left corner.
O'Gara failed to convert and psychologically Italy took the edge into the second half as South African-born De Marigny took over the kicking duties and hammered over from 40 metres to put Kirwan's side within two at the interval.
Poor ruck discipline from the Irish four minutes after the restart saw De Marigny boot Italy in front again. Ireland were celebrating five minutes later though, as another snappy incision from O'Driscoll saw the Italian rearguard stretched and with Horgan about to put a foot in touch, the Heineken Cup's top scorer swung an inviting pass in for Stringer to ghost over.
O'Gara this time converted, and traded penalty blows with De Marigny before a quick turnover on 72 minutes saw Hickie burst over on Murphy's well-timed flick pass.
Kirwan's men failed to give up and with points difference likely to be crucial, saw Castrogiovanni burrow through in injury time.
Rome was certainly not built in a day, and neither will this Six Nations championship be won in a single weekend. But Ireland's thirty-something forwards will be wont to forget this scare.
ITALY: Roland De Marigny; Mirco Bergamasco, Gonzalo Canale, Andrea Masi, Ludovico Nitoglia; Luciano Orquera, Alessandro Troncon; Andrea Lo Cicero, Fabio Ongaro, Martin Castrogiovanni, Santiago Dellape, Marco Bortolami (Capt), Aaron Persico, Mauro Bergamasco, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements: Salvatore Perugini, Giorgio Intoppa, Carlo Antonio Del Fava, David Dal Maso, Paul Griffen, Walter Pozzebon, Paul Kaine Robertson. Subs used: Carlo Antonio Del Fava for Dellape (66 mins), Paul Kaine Robertson for Canale (71), Salvatore Perugini for Ongaro, Giorgio Intoppa for Lo Cicero, David Dal Maso for Parisse (all 79)
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (Capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Reggie Corrigan, Shane Byrne, John Hayes, Malcolm O'Kelly, Paul O'Connell, Simon Easterby, Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley.
Replacements: Frankie Sheahan, Marcus Horan, Donncha O'Callaghan, Eric Miller, Guy Easterby, David Humphreys, Girvan Dempsey. Subs used: Girvan Dempsey for D'Arcy (27 mins), Marcus Horan for Corrigan (61), Eric Miller for Foley, Donncha O'Callaghan for O'Connell, Frankie Sheahan for Byrne (all 77)
HT: Italy 6 Ireland 8; Attendance: 25,000
Referee: Paddy O'Brien (New Zealand)