Kidney grateful to O'Gara for getting sloppy Irish off hook

Italy 11 Ireland 13

In many respects, Ireland's opening performance of the 2011 Six Nations was, well, muck. However, before there is any wild descent into doom-mongering and calls for wholesale change, it should be noted that it is also a win that could stand this Irish squad in good stead, possibly even one we may look back on in eight months' time as a turning point.

The key is that they won – defeat would have been disastrous in terms of morale and progression to the World Cup. The clock is ticking, just eight games and seven months until Ireland begin their New Zealand 2011 campaign and it really is time to kick on.

There have been mitigating circumstances, such as injuries, rule changes and southern hemisphere opposition but the truth is we have not had an Ireland performance to truly enthuse over since the 27-12 win over Wales on 13 March last year. That is why victory was so essential on Saturday and, once again, Irish rugby owes a debt of gratitude to Ronan O'Gara.

Down to 14 men following the sin-binning of Denis Leamy, Ireland were a point behind their hosts and staring a first Six Nations defeat to Italy square in the face. The Stadio Flaminio was rocking, Italy coach Nick Mallett and his assistant Alessandro Troncon looked like they would have to book a hotel room if they got any more excited but O'Gara, on the pitch for Jonathan Sexton not long before Italy forged ahead through Luke McLean's try, was not about to miss this opportunity to make his point.

From the kick-off to the decisive drop goal a couple of minutes after, the 104-cap veteran was in masterful control and, if Ireland had replicated the clinical urgency and focus they showed in that end-game cameo for the previous 77 minutes, they would have won this pulling up.

They kept that focus when Italy attempted to respond with the last kick of the game, a drop goal effort from replacement Luciano Orquera, and relieved Ireland coach Declan Kidney paid tribute to his men afterwards. "There are things you can't coach, you either have it or you don't – and we have it," said Kidney. "That was a time we could have just panicked but, both in attack and defence, we didn't."

However, Kidney acknowledged that his side had fallen well below par with their error count which contributed to 16 turnovers – unsustainable against the top teams and very nearly calamitous against a fired-up and physical Italian effort.

"We didn't excel at anything really," admitted the coach. "I'm not going to try and bask in the elation of having gotten away with it. Knowing the players, I know how hard they try. We had a few wild passes and then once we did that, we just tried harder and harder again and that's a frustration, but it's a positive frustration, we just have to calm down and hang on to the ball and not force things as much."

Two of Ireland's most skilful operators – centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy – were particularly profligate with possession. O'Driscoll scored the crucial try after half-time when he squirmed around the flailing, mismatched challenge of Martin Castrogiovanni but he also flung two wild passes over the head of right wing Fergus McFadden.

D'Arcy had more spills than a waiter with the DTs, and one when he had brought his team to within a metre of the Italian line.

That said, Italy also deserve credit for their resolve. They are still a limited attacking side but have a pack that can mix it with anyone in world rugby and now, helped by their Magners League involvement, appear to be an 80-minute team.

Italy: Try McLean; Penalties Bergamasco 2.

Ireland: Try O'Driscoll; Conversion Sexton; Penalty Sexton; Drop goal O'Gara.

Italy L McLean; A Masi, G Conale, A Sgarbi (G Garcia 70), M Bergamasco; K Burton (L Orquera 72), E Gori (P Canavosio 10); S Perugini (A Lo Cicero 35-40, 63), L Ghiraldini (F Ongaro 63), M Castogiovanni; S Dellape (C Del Fava 54), Q Geldenhuys; J Sole (V Bernabo 50), A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).

Ireland L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (P Wallace 75); K Earls; J Sexton (R O'Gara 66), T O'Leary (E Reddan 63); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin 75), M Ross (T Court 75); D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (L Cullen 73); D Leamy, D Wallace, S O'Brien. Sin-bin D Leamy.

Referee R Poite (France).

The match statistics...


Italy 1 Tries Ireland 1

Italy 0/1 Conversions Ireland 1/1

Italy 2/3 Penalties Ireland 1/1

Italy 0/2 Drop goals Ireland 1/1

Phases of play

Italy 2 Scrums won Ireland 3

Italy 0 Scrums lost Ireland 0

Italy 17 Lineouts won Ireland 9

Italy 2 Lineouts lost Ireland 0

Italy 5 Pens conceded Ireland 13

Italy 10 Mauls won Ireland 3

Italy 7 Ruck and drive Ireland 13

Italy 73 Ruck and pass Ireland 86Team statistics

Italy 124 Passes made Ireland 193

Italy 1 Line breaks Ireland 2

Italy 19 Possession kicked Ire 21

Italy 3 Kicks to touch Ireland 7

Italy 112 Tackles made Ireland 94

Italy 7 Tackles missed Ireland 3

Italy 3 Offloads in tackle Ireland 6

Italy 8 Total errors made Ireland 14

Ball won

Italy 90 In open play Ireland 102

Italy 14 In opponent's 22 Ireland 22

Italy 32 At set-pieces Ireland 17

Italy 1 Turnovers won Ireland 4

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower