Rugby Union: Clueless Ireland hit rock bottom

Ireland 29 Italy 37
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The Independent Online
The nadir of Irish rugby? It's hard to recall when the situation looked quite so bleak. Home defeats to Western Samoa and Italy, by a total of nine tries to two, either side of a typically more praiseworthy one to Australia, extended Ireland's dismal sequence under Pat Whelan and the New Zealand coach Murray Kidd to seven losses in eight games.

Rumours were rife on Saturday night that Kidd was about to be sacked, but there was no white smoke following yesterday's meeting of IRFU officers and the (management) election sub-committee. Nevertheless, this performance might well make their positions untenable, although the proximity of the Five Nations opener against France in a fortnight may save them.

This team's problems are deep-rooted. On the plus side, there was Conor O'Shea's counter-attacking and the game running of the wingers Dominic Crotty and James Topping. There was also a high quotient of line-out ball through Jeremy Davidson, and David Corkery made some good hits around the fringes. That was about it.

For all their ability to win their own first-phase ball, the Irish remain clueless when using it. There remains a chronic lack of penetration in midfield, which was compounded by over-kicking from the halves, especially Stephen McIvor. Despite his record-breaking 24 points, eight penalties out of 10, Paul Burke remains unconvincing at this level.

Even allowing for the Italians' spoiling, the Irish pack had neither the technique nor the ruthlessness to set up a clean, quick ruck ball. Compounding this was how the more inventive Italians exploited a typically porous defence, around the fringes and especially in midfield. From far less ball and comparatively rare sorties into the Irish 22, Italy plundered four tries.

Identifying all of this is the easy part, rectifying it is something else.

Ireland: Try Bell; Penalties Burke 8. Italy: Tries Vaccari 2, Massimo Cuttita, Dominguez; Conversions Dominguez 4; Penalties Dominguez 3.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Topping (Ballymena), J Bell (Northampton), M McCall (Dungannon), D Crotty (Barryowen); P Burke (Bristol), S McIvor (Barryowen); N Popplewell (Newcastle), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), G Fulcher, J Davidson (both London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), E Miller (Leicester), A Foley (Shannon). Replacements: D McBride (Malone) for Miller, 32; P Johns (Saracens) for Fulcher, 66.

ITALY: J Pertile (Roma Olympic); P Vaccari (Calvisano), S Bordon (Rovigo), A Stoica, Marcello Cuttita; D Dominguez (all Milan), A Troncon (Benetton Treviso); Massimo Cuttita, C Orlandi, F Properzi Curti, G Croci (all Milan), W Cristofoletto, A Sgerien, J Gardner (all Benetton Treviso), O Arancio (Milan). Replacements: N Mazzucato (Padova) for Marcello Cuttita, 43; C Checchinate (Benetton Treviso) for Cristofoletto, 66.

Referee: R Davies (Wales).

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