Six Nations 2004
Ireland battle past Italy
March 20, 2004
Brian O'Driscoll runs in one of Ireland's three tries
© Getty Images
Ireland claimed a three-try 19-3 victory over Italy at Lansdowne Road, but not the heavy points haul they craved to stay in the championship race as a howling Dublin wind claimed the man-of-the-match award.
First half efforts from Malcolm O'Kelly and captain Brian O'Driscoll, who was sin-binned on 64 minutes for a high tackle on Paul Griffen, coupled with right wing Shane Horgan's fourth ever touch down against the Azzurri after the break, saw Ireland to the finish line. Despite the best efforts of New Zealand referee Kelvin Deaker, whose positioning in the number 10 channel and decision-making will have to be looked at.
Ireland failed to get any structure to their game, but so too did the Italians in the second half, as with the wind behind them, the game swung on Horgan's effort and a knock on over the Irish line on 56 minutes by Denis Dallan.
Three minutes in and Ronan O'Gara had his first pop at the posts, from just over halfway. A wayward effort, backed by the bluster, edged wide but from a disrupted Italian scrum, the Munster number 10 pinned Italy back to their five-metre line three minutes later.
A scoreless opening twenty minutes saw O'Gara run more often than not, but playing the game at breakneck speed and with a gale force wind behind them, the Irish were guilty of over-running and expected mishandling.
Following his opening miss, O'Gara refused three further penalty awards to pepper the Italian flanks, and although Shane Byrne's throwing coughed up two crooked throws, it was off a loose Italian set piece that the home side went in front.
With hooker Fabio Ongaro sin-binned on 18 minutes for persistent interference at ruck time, his replacement Carlo Festuccia almost gave enough time for 63-cap lock O'Kelly to reply to pen a reply to the Parma number 2's underarm telegraph throw, and the giant second row reached over for a deserved try.
O'Kelly was excellent in the loose too, and it was his initial pick and drive which saw O'Gara and his centres put the returning Geordan Murphy nearly in at the left corner, but the Leicester Tiger, understandably off the pace, lost it forward under Giancarlo Canale's tackle.
The plucky visitors had a five minute spell in Irish territory but the Irish lead was increased six minutes before the break as O'Driscoll claimed a record 24th try, ripping the Italian defence apart as he ghosted through a blindside gap, between Nicola Mazzucato and Ongaro to scorch over to the left of the posts.
O'Gara's convert, hit superbly in a swaying wind, nudged Ireland into a 12-0 lead but the out-half should have done better on 38 minutes when his right-sided penalty, inside the Italian '22, struck the left upright.
It was O'Gara who swung a crisp pass to his left to put Horgan over after ten second half minutes, and his conversion made it 19-0. Dallan was unlucky as he tried to hold onto a flat pass with the Irish defence breached.
Italy's chances of getting a try increased after the hour when O'Driscoll walked for a head high tackle on the busy Griffen, and they opened their scoring account on 67 minutes when Roland De Marigny slotted over his second shot at the Irish posts, from 18 metres.
The biting wind saw Ireland nailed into their own half for the final few minutes, and with a string of substitutes, five in all in the final stages, the game petered out as a spectacle, with one Irish eye on next weekend's Triple Crown decider against Scotland at the same venue.