Ireland Cruise To Roman Victory

Tommy O'Donnell Ireland Italy Azzurri 6 Six Nations RugbyIreland conquered Italy with consummate ease on Saturday, though the calculated and mundane manner in which they did so left much to be desired. Matches involving Italy are rarely crowd-friendly spectacles, and certainly the Azzurri have to shoulder the brunt of the criticism but Ireland played their part with a conservative game plan, playing the percentages and rarely venturing into the wider stretches of the pitch. It’s a laborious tournament and earning the win without overly taxing the bodies will pay dividends in the long run. In the short however, it was a dreary episode that rarely got the heart rate above resting.

The loss of Sean O’Brien in the warmup certainly contributed to the shortage of dynamism, and for Irish fans in attendance it must have been sour news indeed. Thankfully his new knock appears to be only a minor disagreement between his buttock and thigh, and the medical staff at IRFU headquarters are confident that he will be fit to face France in Dublin. Ireland will need him, even if only as an impact sub, which he may well be after a positive showing by his replacement Tommy O’Donnell. The Munster flanker has had his ups and downs but has settled into a decent run of form, enough to merit a start if Joe Schmidt opts to ease O’Brien back in.

Ian Keatley’s first Six Nations appearance went about as expected. He was picked to do a job, and for the most part achieved just what was asked. The gulf in class between he and Jonny Sexton is substantial, but Keatley’s kicking was good enough to put Ireland in position to score points, and make good on the opportunities when they presented themselves.

Ian Keatley Ireland Italy Azzurri 6 Six Nations RugbyThere have been a few perfunctory expressions of satisfaction from the self-styled Irish consiliari, but few aside would have been overly awed by what they saw. There were no exceptional performances, though Schmidt does have several strings left in his bow with a number of his best players set to return in the next game or two. Sexton’s return will obviously be the most celebrated, but O’Brien, Cian Healy, and Jamie Heaslip will add considerable starch to the frontal assault group. They are all key figures heading towards September.

The Azzurri were ordinary at best. Aside from a five minute stretch when Leonardo Ghiraldini was in the bin, their defense was solid enough, but with ball in hand they made far too many rudimentary errors. Bad passes, poor handling, wrong options, soft turnovers, cheap penalties. The same sort they’ve been guilty of for the past year at least. Jacques Brunel’s tenure is coming to a close at the end of the year, and while one sympathises with his relative lack of alternatives, perhaps he might have taken a page from Philippe Saint-André’s book of wacky selections and chanced some youngsters from left field. The current group are just treading water.

Kelly Haimona Jack McGrath Italy Ireland Azzurri 6 Six Nations RugbyAt the very least he might opt to hand Tommaso Allan an extended run in the no10 jersey. If Kelly Haimona is to stay on for his kicking, a move to centre – where he finished the match – looks a far better option given his preference to keep the ball himself rather than move it through the hands. It’s no surprise that Italy looked more inventive and very nearly scored once Allan arrived.

With any luck this match will be an aberration. In days past it might have been closer to the norm, and the match between Italy and Wales does not shine brightly on the calendar, but the rest should yield more ambitious efforts. The tension, at the very least, will increase exponentially for Ireland from here on out. Hopefully there is a classic or two that results in the weeks ahead.

Saturday, February 7, 14:30 GMT, Rome

07 mins – I. Keatley pen 0-3
21 mins – I. Keatley pen 0-6
36 mins – I. Keatley pen 0-9
40 mins – K. Haimona pen 3-9
57 mins – I. Keatley pen 3-12
64 mins – C. Murray try 3-17
65 mins – I. Keatley con 3-19
67 mins – T. O’Donnell try 3-24
67 mins – I. Madigan con 3-26

64 mins – L. Ghiraldini yellow (professional foul)

A. Masi (G. Venditti 77); L. Sarto, M. Campagnaro (T. Allan 63), L. Morisi, L. McLean; K. Haimona, E. Gori; M. Aguero (A. de Marchi 53), L. Ghiraldini (A. Manici 74), M. Castrogiovanni (D. Chistolini 69); G. Biagi (M. Fuser 74), J. Furno; A. Zanni (M. Barbini 47 {A. Manisi 69-74}), F. Minto (M. Fuser 67-71), S. Parisse (capt.).

R. Kearney; T. Bowe (F. Jones 67), J. Payne, R. Henshaw, S. Zebo; I. Keatley (I. Madigan 65), C. Murray (I. Boss 69); J. McGrath (J. Cronin 67), R. Best (S. Cronin 47), M. Ross (M. Moore 52); D. Toner, P. O’Connell (capt.); P. O’Mahony (I. Henderson 65), T. O’Donnell, J. Murphy.

Referee: P. Gaüzère (FFR)
Assistants: W. Barnes (RFU) & L. Pearce (RFU)
TMO: G. Hughes (RFU)

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