Italy sent out a warning ahead of the 2015 World Cup after they powered to their first win over Ireland yesterday in what has arguably been their most successful Six Nations campaign.
For only the second time – after 2007 – they have won two games in the tournament, their other victims being another huge scalp in France who, along with Ireland, happen to be their group opponents in the World Cup in two years' time.
Meanwhile, Ireland's fourth Six Nations game without a win will cast further doubts over the future of their coach, Declan Kidney, who said after the defeat: "I'd have to sit down and think about whether I want a new contract."
Even though the squad were hit by injury, it is their worst run in the Championship since 2000. They also lost three more to injury in the first half and had three men sent to the sin-bin, not to mention the fact that their line-out was in such disarray they lost four throws.
Despite this, the Italy captain, Sergio Parisse, insisted that the quality of opposition they have mastered this year sets 2013 apart. "You can't compare this with 2007 because we have secured wins against two of the strongest in the world," he said. "We're a squad that's improving. We have sent a strong message to France and Ireland for the 2015 World Cup. Overall in this Six Nations we have managed to put a lot of teams under pressure."
Before kick-off the Italians had outrun all their Six Nations opponents with ball in hand, and dominated possession and territory in all games bar last weekend's visit to Twickenham, where both were 50-50. The trinity of Parisse, Alessandro Zanni and Simone Favaro have been immense, totting up over 527 metres in carries, 19 offloads and 98 tackles – Zanni missing just one in 36. But some old failings are proving to be habits that die hard, and indiscipline still plagues them.
This was evident when the hosts conceded their first penalty after just 18 seconds. By the third minute that count had reached three, and so had Ireland's score after Paddy Jackson slotted his first kick for a 3-0 lead.
Ireland began this game with 11 front-line internationals unavailable and by the time they headed for the dressing room that figure had grown to 14 after Luke Marshall, Keith Earls and replacement Luke Fitzgerald, on for Marshall, had all departed.
Added to that Brian O'Driscoll, possibly in his last game for Ireland, was yellow-carded for stamping on an Italian and the Irish looked in complete disarray after the half-hour. However, though Italy took a 9-3 lead it came via three kicks, including two from Luciano Orquera. Jackson's second kick then left just three points between the sides at half-time
The one try came after the break, when errors from Rob Kearney and Conor Murray led to sustained pressure which was only relieved when the TMO instructed the referee, Wayne Barnes, to reward Giovanbattista Venditti's scramble over the line with a try. Orquera converted and Italy were 10 points up.
Immediately, though, Parisse's trip on Ian Madigan was punished both with a yellow card and by Jackson collecting another three points. Andrea Lo Cicero, on his final and 102nd appearance for Italy, then conceded a penalty which allowed Jackson to reduce the gap to four points before Italy coughed up their 10th penalty and another Jackson strike brought the score to 16-15.
But after one more Irish line-out malfunction, replacement Stephen Archer was pinged and Orquera duly obliged to kick his fourth penalty of the afternoon. Ireland then self-destructed, with Donnacha Ryan and Murray's off-ball efforts punished with yellow cards, leaving Orquera with the final say off the tee to give Italy a historic seven-point win.
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