Italian industry not enough to challenge rusty Ireland

Ireland 29 Italy 11
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The Independent Online

This was a less than grand performance by the Grand Slam champions. On a cold, mostly grey day, Ireland struggled to finish off a dogged, game but limited Italian side.

Ireland, 23-8 up at the break, lost their way thereafter. There was no shortage of hard work and they got their heads down and threw themselves at the Italian defence. The trouble was, there wasn't much finesse about their play. Italy's defence was brave; they kept going, knocking down the men in green and sticking to their grim task.

Ireland will be hugely disappointed they could not break through at all after half-time. They had to rely on Ronan O'Gara's goal-kicking for 16 of their points – the late replacement Paddy Wallace kicked another penalty. There were times when Ireland seemed as rusty as an old garden gate. Rob Kearney's charged down clearance kick which gifted a first-half try to the Italy wing Kaine Robertson was one example. Kearney delayed and handed the wing a simple try which revived Italy from a dire 23-3 five minutes before half-time.

But for all their efforts, the only score the Italians could manage thereafter was Mirco Bergamasco's second-half penalty, to add to one by Craig Gower after 26 minutes.

France in Paris next Saturday may appear a mountain for Ireland to climb after this spluttering display. But the truth is, this workout will benefit the champions. They did look rusty but at least they should have now got that out of their system.

Brian O'Driscoll again shone like a beacon on a dark night. The brilliant Irish captain chipped a flat defence, flipped an instant pass at dazzling speed out wide to make Jamie Heaslip's opening try after 14 minutes and then broke through himself. But O'Driscoll looked as frustrated as anyone else by the end.

The scrum-half Tomas O'Leary scored Ireland's second try, five minutes before half-time, after the Italian captain, Leonardo Ghiraldini, threw a line-out straight to Leo Cullen a few yards from his own line. It was a constant problem for Ghiraldini and the Italians – their line-out was a mess.

O'Gara's cool kicking punished Italy's frequent mistakes. He converted both tries and landed penalties after nine, 28, 32 and 46 minutes. Wallace's penalty came 13 minutes from the end.

Italy were not able to do much except try to survive. They were well organised and hugely committed. But their scrum-half, Tito Tebaldi, took an age to clear from the base and he kicked incessantly. For long periods, the game descended into a boring kicking contest. Ireland's Lions full-back, Kearney, will surely seek to run more ball back at the French next weekend. That is just one way Ireland can sharpen up their attacking game.

Ireland R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, A Trimble (K Earls, 55); R O'Gara (P Wallace, 65), T O'Leary (E Reddan, 73); C Healy, J Flannery (R Best, 55), J Hayes (T Court, 72), L Cullen, P O'Connell (D Ryan, 60), K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, D Wallace (S O'Brien, 72).

Italy L McLean; K Robertson (A Masi, 58), G Canale, G Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; C Gower (R Bocchino, 65-73), T Tebaldi (S Picone, 65); S Perugini (Castrogiovanni, 72), L Ghiraldini (capt) (F Ongaro 72),M Castrogiovanni (M Aguero, 55), C Del Fava (M Bortolami, 49), Q Geldenhuys, J Sole, A Zanni, Mauro Bergamasco.

Referee: R Poite (France).