Rugby Union: Anxious Ireland wait on O'Driscoll injury

Italy 17 Try Castrogiovanni Pens Orquera, De Marigny 3 Ireland 28 Tries Murphy, Stringer, Hickie Cons O'Gara 2 Pens O'Gara 3 Half-time: 6-8 Att: 25,000
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The Independent Online
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL and Gordon D'Arcy look likely to miss Ireland's next match in the Six Nations Championship after hobbling out of a hard- won match with hamstring injuries.

According to Ireland's head coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, D'Arcy looks the more seriously injured. "Gordon is under pressure to be fit for next week's match against Scotland at Murrayfield. We are not so sure of the extent of Brian's injury. We will know more tomorrow."

The pair's absence could prove crucial to the pre-tournament favourites' plans. If O'Driscoll is sidelined there is the likelihood of a recall for Ulster's veteran Kevin Maggs, and Shane Horgan may also play in the centre, where he finished yesterday's match.

The injuries were witnessed by the British and Irish Lions manager Sir Clive Woodward, who saw a determined and skilful Italy side finish on the wrong end of a scoreline which in no way reflected their performance.

The Irish had to withstand a period of high pressure as the Italians stormed into their 22 and stayed there for the opening 20 minutes. It was frantic, furious stuff.

When they gained possession Ireland found it almost impossible to clear their lines. The fly-half Ronan O'Gara appeared to have problems with the ball, which flew awkwardly and tended to dip early, thus robbing the kicks of length and resulting in touch being missed on more than half a dozen occasions.

But all the Italians had to show for their sweat and toil was a solitary penalty from their fly-half Luciano Orquera, who missed three kicks at goal before being replaced by the full-back Roland de Marigny, who succeeded with his first kick just before half time.

The Italians were rarely out of touch. They had a try disallowed and got close on a couple of other occasions. And while their much-vaunted midfield of Gonzalo Canale and Andrea Masi was more Fiat than Ferrari in attack, the Azzurri forwards were in Rolls Royce mode, powering upfield and purring to the breakdown.

The Irish had expected nothing less. They were hammered back in the tackle, reduced to frantic and furious scrabbling for any stray ball and forced into errors by Italy's aggression.

It needed vigilance and timely tackles to keep their opponents in check. And it also called for Ireland to play a waiting game until opportunities presented themselves.

Their first serious sally into Italy's half was a spectacular break by D'Arcy, who found Horgan in space inside him. The right winger took some hauling down. The green shirts stayed upfield though, and after O'Driscoll was treated for an accidental clash of heads with D'Arcy at a ruck Ireland won a line-out and sucked in some Italian cover before spinning the ball out.

It found O'Driscoll, who shaped to pass, but having convinced the Italy defence he then changed his mind and went into overdrive, revealing his breathtaking pace as he outstripped Canale before finding Geordan Murphy accelerating up the left. The full-back hurtled into the corner.

The referee, Paddy O'Brien, called for video confirmation, there being some doubt as to whether Murphy had grounded the ball, but the score was given. There then followed a moment of controversy when the Italians began their charge of O'Gara's conversion prematurely. After the ball had sailed wide and the Italians had begun jogging back to the middle for the restart O'Brien whistled them back. O'Gara missed the kick again.

Ireland paid for the try though, D'Arcy injuring a hamstring during the move. Italy, who had led early on, regained the lead after the interval with the second of De Marigny's three penalties. Then Peter Stringer got on the end of a brilliant pass back over his head by Horgan and the Ireland scrum-half scuttled in for a crucial second try. O'Gara converted and landed a couple of penalties before Denis Hickie scored a third try that should have knocked the stuffing out of Italy.

Instead it spurred them to even greater efforts and they eventually forced their human wrecking ball, Martin Castrogiovanni, over the line. They left O'Driscoll in their wake, apparently having done the splits. A nation faces an anxious wait for news of their captain and talisman.

ITALY: R de Marigny (Rugby Parma); Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), G Canale (Treviso), A Masi (Viadana), L Nitoglia (Calvisano); L Orquera (Padova), A Troncon (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila), F Ongaro (Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano), S Dellape (Agen), M Bortolami (Narbonne, capt), A Persico (Agen), S Parisse (Treviso), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Francais). Replacements: S Perugini (Calvisano) for Lo Cicero, 80; G Intoppa (Calvisano) for Ongaro, 80; C Del Fava (Rugby Parma) for Dellape, 69; D Dal Maso (Treviso) for Parisse, 80; P K Robertson (Viadana) for Canale, 76.

IRELAND: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, D Hickie (all Leinster); R O'Gara, P Stringer (both Munster); R Corrigan, S Byrne (both Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), A Foley, D Leamy (both Munster). Replacements: F Sheahan (Munster) for Foley, 80; M Horan (Munster) for Corrigan, 63; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Connell, 80; E Miller (Leinster) for Byrne, 80; G Dempsey (Leinster) for D'Arcy, 33.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).

Man of the match

Brian O'Driscoll. The captain's considerable vision, pace and passing set him apart.

Moment of the match

O'Driscoll's brilliant break in the 29th-minute which led to Ireland's vital first try.