Italy 24-51 Ireland, March 17, 2007
Ireland put Italy to the sword
March 17, 2007
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll takes the ball forward
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Ireland stormed to an impressive 51-24 victory over Italy in their Six Nations clash at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome to set the target for their Championship rivals.
Ireland placed one hand on the RBS 6 Nations trophy after putting Italy to the sword at the Stadio Flaminio. Brian O'Driscoll's side watched France's clash with Scotland knowing they had done everything possible to clinch the title thanks to an eight-try rout of the Azzurri.
The Triple Crown holders needed Scotland to pull off a shock triumph in Paris or for France to win by less than 23 points in the second match of the championship. Only England could then catch them but the world champions would have to amass a cricket score against Wales to overhaul their rivals, who are in pole position.
Expecting the Six Nations to be decided by points difference, Ireland produced a stunning display of attacking rugby to land an enormous psychological blow on France. Their finishing was utterly ruthless with Girvan Dempsey and Denis Hickie running in a brace of tries each while Simon Easterby, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Ronan O'Gara also crossed. Italy put them under heavy pressure in the first half, and trailed just 20-12at half-time thanks to the boot of Ramiro Pez, but Ireland were lethal with the ball in hand and their class eventually told.
The stands were covered by huge swathes of green shirts, almost justifying estimates that 17,000 Irish fans had managed to buy tickets for the match. Travelling supporters had capitalised on an error in the Italian Rugby Federation's ticket selling procedures to turn the 25,000 capacity ground into neutral territory.
But it was home supporters who given the most to cheer early on with Italy securing a turnover which Alessandro Troncon chipped into the corner for Kaine Robertson to chase. The ball bounced dead before Robertson could reach it and Ireland attackedfrom the ensuing scrum, making valuable ground until Girvan Dempsey was hit with a thumping tackle from Sergio Parisse. Shane Horgan should have passed to Denis Hickie with the Leinster winger lurking in midfield but Italy had already strayed offside and Ronan O'Gara slotted the three points.
But Italy were back on level terms when Robertson slipped his way out of traffic on the right wing, setting up a thrilling passage of play with the Azzurri probing down both flanks. Bayonne fly-half Ramiro Pez opted for the drop goal and although he was on target, there may have been more points on offer had they kept the ball in hand.
Italy edged ahead when Pez landed a penalty but Ireland's reply was swift, running a free-kick after Italy had been penalised at a scrum. Gordon D'Arcy and Denis Hickie combined initially to release Brian O'Driscoll with the Ireland skipper drawing Roland de Marigny and supplying the scoring pass to Dempsey.
Just as Italy appeared to be building up a head of steam, they were hit by a stroke of bad luck as the ball bounced free from a scrum and into the path of Peter Stringer. Ireland pounced with clinical efficiency, David Wallace gathering up the ball and feeding Easterby who presented Horgan with a race to the line.
The Leinster winger was halted by de Marigny but Easterby was in support and the Llanelli blindside crashed over in the corner. O'Gara once again missed the conversion but Ireland had established a 13-6 lead they scarcely deserved, although a second Pez penalty kept Italy in touch.
The Azzurri outside half was kicking beautifully and fired another drop goal, but a loose chip from Troncon then put Italy under pressure with Wallace prominent in the counter-attack. Pez missed a long range penalty and when Italy conceded another free kick, Ireland pounced once again to run in their third try.
But the score was shrouded in controversy with Hickie's scoring pass to D'Arcy nearly a yard forward and the Leinster centre also appeared to have been held up over the line, although referee Jonathan Kaplan declined to use the television match official for confirmation.
Italy put themselves under pressure yet again shortly after the interval, Parisse seeing an optimistic pass intercepted by Hickie who was just beaten in the subsequent foot race by Mirco Bergamasco. But Ireland were not finished yet as D'Arcy ran a quick penalty, recycling to O'Gara who sent Dempsey through a large gap and over the line, with the fly-half adding the conversion.
The flood-gates had opened as Ireland ran in their fifth try with Hickie slicing through Italy's midfield and picking out Horgan raced home unchallenged. Hickie crossed himself following a crafty dummy and then O'Gara was over, chasing a kick after D'Arcy had broke from his own half.
The score was tarnished by an injury to O'Driscoll, however, with the Lions centre unable to walk as he was helped from the pitch. Italy skipper Marco Bortolami crashed over after gathering a crossfield kick from Andrea Scanavacca but Ireland restored their 30-point cushion with a late try from Hickie.
There was still time for de Marigny to score in the corner with Ireland refusing to kick the ball out when in possession and then seeing their points advantage further reduced by Scanavacca's conversion.
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