Rugby Union: Irish weather the storm

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ireland 39

Italy 30

IRELAND'S PRE-MATCH nightmare ended at Lansdowne Road yesterday when they eventually ran out the winners, having suffered an embarrassment in the first half when they trailed 23-11. The tide turned in the second period with the first of two tries by the full-back Conor O'Shea, and a late try by the Italians gave a more accurate look to the final scoreline.

As Ireland faced Italy in the fifth match between the two countries, the start, and the subsequent restart, were disastrous for the home side, with Italy getting their first points on the board inside the opening minute of the match. Victor Costello knocked on the kick from Diego Dominguez which began the game, the Italians won three successive rucks from the resulting scrum and Walter Tristofoletto got in beside the left-hand touch-line flag for the visitors' first try.

Dominguez made no mistake with a superb conversion from out on the touchline and Ireland had got away to the kind of start which their coach, Warren Gatland, might have had sleepless nights thinking about in the build-up to the game. And that was just the beginning of the nightmare which was to unfold for Ireland.

An Irish scrum, a drive by Costello and an excellent floated pass from Eric Elwood put Justin Bishop in for an unconverted try after nine minutes. But thereafter the Irish were on the back foot. A dropped goal by Dominguez was countered by a penalty goal from close in, kicked by Elwood. Then, as the game entered the second quarter, Dominguez struck again, first with a penalty goal and then with another dropped goal. Bad enough, the home supporters might have felt, but worse was soon to follow.

From a scrum in midfield, Dominguez gave a long pass to centre Giacomo Preo and he unleashed the left wing Marco Baroni, who out-paced the defence to score in the left-hand corner. Dominguez landed a great conversion, again from out on the touchline. The only reply from the Irish came in first-half injury time when Italy were caught offside, Elwood landing the penalty to leave Ireland 12 points in arrears at half-time.

Aided by the strong winds, and maybe by a barracking from Gatland at half-time, Ireland got back into the game early in the second period. Elwood made space for the left-wing Girvan Dempsey, who might have scored himself, but who instead put in O'Shea for a try, Elwood missing the difficult conversion.

Dominguez was then, for once, wide with an attempted penalty, but thereafter the Irish enjoyed considerable territorial advantage, without making it pay in terms of tries, as they were denied by determined defence.

But two more penalty goals from Elwood, in the 50th and 61st minutes, saw Ireland adrift by just a single point. Shortly afterwards Elwood was not too far off the mark with a couple of long-range penalty attempts, the decision to take them in the first place perhaps pointing to the growing desperation.

Ireland went ahead for the first time in the 68th minute. Good running from a scrum enabled Elwood to create space for O'Shea with Dempsey claiming the try, although it remained unconverted. With time running out, O'Shea split the Italian cover to score between the posts, Elwood knocking over the simple conversion.

A few minutes later the Italians got their only score of the second half when the right-wing Fabio Roselli replied between the posts. But in the last moments of the match a drive by the pack led to an unconverted try by Ireland's captain Paddy Johns and the home side were greatly relieved to get away with a victory, having lost their previous three matches to Italy.

Ireland: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Bishop (London Irish), K Maggs (Bath), R Henderson (Wasps), G Dempsey (Terenure College); E Elwood (Galwegians), C Scally (UCD); J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Saracens, capt), J Davidson (Castres), T Brennan (St Mary's College), V Costello (St Mary's College), D O'Cuinneagain (Sale) Replacements: J Bell (Dungannon) for Henderson (37), K Wood (Harlequins) for Nesdale (55), P Wallace (Saracens) for Clohessy (55)

Italy: J Pertile (Roma); F Roselli (Roma), G Preo (Lofa Milano), L Martin (Begles-Bordeaux), M Baroni (Padova); D Dominguez (Stade Francais), A Troncon (Benetton Treviso); G De Carli (Roma), A Moscardi (Benetton Treviso), F Properzi (Benetton Treviso), M Giacheri (West Hartlepool), W Cristofoletto (Benetton Treviso), M Giovanelli (Narbonne, capt), O Arancio (Benetton Treviso)S Saviozzi (Benetton Treviso). Replacements: W Viser (Benetton Traviso) for Giacheri (6), S Saviozzi (Benetton Traviso) for Arancio (65), R Rampazzo (Podova) for Stocco (65).

Referee: D Gillet (France).