Paul O'Connell said that Ireland's chances of winning in Paris next weekend had improved after their comfortable Six Nations victory over Italy in Dublin yesterday. The Irish will return to the Stade de France a week today, after the original fixture a fortnight ago was postponed due to a frozen pitch.
Rather than face Les Bleus on the back of a dispiriting and controversial home defeat by Wales, as would have been the case two weeks ago, they will meet the championship favourites having routed Italy by five tries to one.
"It's great to get that result going to Paris, so we're probably in a better place than we were the last time we went over," said O'Connell. "It's a good scoreline, there's no doubt about it. The guys are happy with that. There's a feeling of frustration over the first-half performance and a few of the things we didn't execute.
"But when we did get out of our half we were good and confident. We took our chances well and kept going at them for 80 minutes, which we haven't always done. We have a lot of excellent and classy players and we took our tries well, which was satisfying. It was a good, patient performance."
The winger Tommy Bowe scored two tries while the centre Keith Earls, the replacement prop Tom Court and the wing Andrew Trimble also touched down in perfect conditions as Ireland avoided a fourth successive defeat at the Aviva Stadium. Sergio Parisse scored Italy's try, levelling the scores at 10-10 just before half-time. Bowe's first try sent Ireland in seven points ahead, but while the final scoreline was emphatic, the performance – against a disappointing Italy side – was far from perfect.
Ireland's coach, Declan Kidney, praised his side's ambition but said that it should be reined in on occasion.
"We did some simple things well. In the second half we put away our scores very well and we're delighted with that," he said. "There was a bit of wearing down that had to be done in the first 50 minutes, as there are in all Test matches.
"We could probably have done a little more of that in their half rather than ours, but I can't fault the boys for trying to play. We had the courage to play, but what we need to do is get the balance right. That comes with playing together and the more time we spend together the better we'll become. But we can't go away thinking everything's great just because we scored a few late tries."
The centre Gordon D'Arcy damaged his shoulder but Kidney said he was not concerned by the injury; the full-back Rob Kearney's groin tightened up and he will be monitored.
The fly-half Jonathan Sexton finished with 17 points from a flawless kicking display and he was joined on the field in the second half by Ronan O'Gara, who surpassed the injured captain, Brian O'Driscoll, to become Ireland's most capped player, with 118. Sexton was named as man of the match but he must have been run close by Kearney, who made a succession of darting runs from full-back that troubled Italy's defence.
The Italy coach, Jacques Brunel, who has seen his first three matches end in defeat, said the Azzurri had paid the price for a poor second-half that saw Ireland score three of their five tries, the last an embarrassingly easy run-in for Trimble.
"We had two different teams out there," the Frenchman said. "In the first half we tried to play and kept the score close. But in the second half we suffered beneath the Irish pressure and made many mistakes."
Brunel had selected the Treviso scrum-half Tobias Botes to start for the first time in an international – at fly-half. The South African-born Botes produced enough to suggest that he will be worth persevering with, although his statistics of just two successful kicks from five attempts made for grim reading. One penalty struck the bar but two misses were from relatively straightforward kicks.
Ireland R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt, both Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Heaslip, S O'Brien (both Leinster). Replacements E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray, 54; P O'Mahony (Munster) for O'Brien, 58; D Ryan (Munster) for O'Callaghan, 58; F McFadden (Leinster) for Earls, 67; T Court (Ulster) for Healy, 69; S Cronin (Leinster) for Best, 69; R O'Gara (Munster) for D'Arcy, 69.
Italy A Masi; G Venditti (both Aironi), T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; T Botes, E Gori; M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini (all Benetton Treviso), Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (both Aironi), A Zanni (Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt), R Barbieri (Treviso). Replacements K Burton (Treviso) for Botes, 58; A Pavanello (Treviso) for Geldenhuys, 58; G Canale (Clermont Auvergne) for Sgarbi, 63; S Favaro (Aironi) for Barbieri, 64; F Staibano (Aironi) for Cittadini, 67; F Semenzato (Treviso) for Gori, 71; T D'Apice (Aironi) for Ghiraldini, 71.
Referee M Joubert (South Africa).
Tries: Earls, Bowe 2, Court, Trimble
Cons: Sexton 4
Pens: Sexton 3
Pen: BotesReuse content