Kidney faces No 10 headache as O'Gara keeps Ireland on boil

Ireland 36 Italy 6

Mick Mallett's words came back to haunt him after he taunted Ireland's front-row in the build up to this winner-takes-all clash in Dunedin. Irish props Cian Healy and Mike Ross issued the perfect riposte to boasts by the Italy coach that his side would dominate the scrum, laying the foundation for another Ireland win.

After all the hurt and pain of four years ago, when they missed out on the quarter-finals, the Irish are now on the verge of their best showing at a World Cup with Wales blocking their path to a first appearance in the semi-finals. After winning their four pool matches, Brian O'Driscoll's side will fear nothing from Wales – or England or France, the other sides on their half of the draw.

"I'm delighted with the win. We knew we needed it and I'm glad we were able to deliver it in the second half," captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "We owe the crowd a huge debt of gratitude and hopefully we can keep them going a few weeks yet. We've managed to deliver at crucial times and we've managed to get into a place where we're playing Wales for a semi-final spot. That's all we could have hoped for really."

Rather than being a potential weakness, Healy and Ross showed that Ireland have a potent weapon in their scrum, while their back-row trio of Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien simply get stronger with every match they play in New Zealand.

Having come out on top of the temperamental Italians up front in the first half, which ended 9-6, the floodgates opened once the Irish backline found its full repertoire.

As ever, when a try was needed to open daylight between the sides, it was the irrepressible O'Driscoll who was on the shoulder of Tommy Bowe with his natural sense of timing to race over for his 45th Test try for his country.

It was plain sailing after that, birthday boy Keith Earls touching down twice in the corner to complete a comprehensive rout of an Azzurri side that lost all shape and substance in the second half.

It was a sad way for Mallett to end his tenure as Italy's head coach, while the loosehead prop Salvatore Perugini could also be cited for appearing to gouge his opposite number Healy in the match's opening stages.

Declan Kidney's decision to go with Ronan O'Gara over Jonathan Sexton was vindicated, the wily Munster marksman keeping his side moving forward and kicking four goals. Who he chooses next week against the more expansive Wales will be one of his big dilemmas. On this form, Ireland will take some stopping, especially if they can build up a head of steam up front, where their back-row trio continue to impress.

As Irish fans are claiming, when Bruce Banner gets angry he turns into the Incredible Hulk. When the Hulk gets angry, he turns into O'Brien. Against the outstanding Wales captain Sam Warburton next weekend, he will be the linchpin around whom Ireland's fortunes will revolve.

O'Driscoll added: "It's going to be another great challenge for us against Wales. It's been very close in recent years. We will both go back and do our homework on each other and it will be the team that turns up on the day and goes into the semi-final."

Scorers: Ireland: Tries O'Driscoll, Earls 2 Penalties O'Gara 4, Sexton Conversions O'Gara 2, Sexton. Italy: Penalties Mirco Bergamasco 2.

Ireland Kearney, Bowe, O'Driscoll (capt, Trimble 74), D'Arcy, Earls, O'Gara (Sexton 67), Murray (Reddan 73); Healy (Court 72), Best (Cronin 53), Ross, O'Callaghan, O'Connell (Ryan 58), Ferris (Leamy 72), O'Brien, Heaslip.

Italy Masi, Benvenuti, Canale, Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco, Orquera (Bocchino 40), Semenzato (Gori 56); Perugini, Ghiraldini (Ongaro 67), Castrogiovanni (Lo Cicero, 34), Geldenhuys, Van Zyl (Bortolami 61), Zanni, Mauro Bergamasco (Derbyshire 49), Parisse (capt, McLean 77).

Referee J Kaplan (South Africa).

QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

Saturday

Ireland v Wales, 6am, Wellington
England v France, 8.30am, Auckland

Sunday

South Africa v Australia, 6am, Wellington
New Zealand v Argentina, 8.30am, Auckland

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