Ireland 26 Italy 16: Bowe's try settles match marred by bad blood

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Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, alleged that an Italian player - later revealed to be Leicester's new signing, the prop Martin Castrogiovanni - had bitten the flanker Simon Easterby on the arm. Easterby apparently showed the referee, England's David Pearson, the bite mark and although the skin was not broken it is expected that the citing officer, Rob Flockhart of Scotland, will look closely at footage of the alleged incident. He has until 3.30pm tomorrow to lodge a citing.

The Italians claimed that Ireland's captain Brian O'Driscoll stamped on their hooker Fabio Ongaro and were incensed that no action was taken. The citing officer is believed to be studying that claim as well.

But all that should not detract from a gutsy performance by Italy, who gave further evidence that they are becoming more streetwise and are closing the gap on the rest of the northern hemisphere sides. They were never out of this game, and indeed the two home tries appeared to require a fair old dollop of the traditional luck of the Irish, with television replays deepening the doubts .

Mr Pearson did not call on the TV match official to verify that a try had been scored, clearly feeling that had seen all he needed to make his decision.

And at the end of a fraught match the home cheers were more down to relief than jubilation. Despite sustained periods of pressure, with the Italians forced on to the back foot and into their half, sometimes even into their 22, Ireland were in front for just three minutes of the first half.

The reason for that was simple. Italian grit was greater than Irish grind. The line-out was an uncomfortable place to be for anyone in a green shirt. The scrum held early promise for Ireland, after Marcus Horan made mincemeat of Carlos Nieto's technique, but even that advantage dribbled away.

Italy were all for getting into Ireland's faces. This was nowhere more obvious than when the Italians employed the rush defence on Irish ball to close down Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

One of the world's most dangerous centre pairings was neutralised with brutal efficiency. There were occasions when the defenders had to have been well offside but it was not something which seemed to concern the match officials.

Ireland had gone behind to the first of Ramiro Pez's penalties in the 13th minute. Then from a close range line-out the Irish drove for the line, with the hooker Jerry Flannery on the back of it. But as Flannery crashed over he appeared to lose control of the ball. Replays seemed to back up this impression, but Mr Pearson was on the spot and happy to award the try.

The lead was short-lived. Three minutes later a wicked break by Pez up the middle cleared the way for Mirco Bergamasco to finish things off nicely under the posts.

At least Ireland levelled affairs by the interval, while Italy were reduced to 14 men after Pez was sent to the sin bin for taking out a man off the ball.

Irelandslipped behind again before finally taking charge. The lead was only regained when O'Gara's umpteenth cross kick to the left wing finally found its mark and Tommy Bowe gathered the ball and stepped the rest of the way to the line.

He crossed it with Mauro Bergamasco clinging like a monkey to his back, but when the Ulster wing attempted to touch the ball down only his elbow appeared to make contact with the ground. Again Pearson was on the spot and gave the try. O'Gara's remaining penalties took the game away from Italy.

Afterwards Italy's coach Pierre Berbizier questioned why, with a TV match official available, the referee had not called for technological confirmation of the two scores.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); M Horan (Munster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster). Replacement: D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 62,.

Italy: C Stoica (Montpellier); P Canavosio (Calvisano), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), L Nitoglia (Calvisano); R Pez (Perpignan), P Griffen (Calvisano); S Perugini (Calvisano), F Ongario (Treviso), C Nieto (Viadana), S Dellape (Agen), M Bortolami (Narbonne, capt), J Sole (Viadana), S Parisse (Stade Français), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français). Replacements: M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano) for Nieto, 68; C Del Fava (Bourgoin) for Bortolami, 26-32 & 68; A Persico (Agen) for Mauro Bergamasco, 62.

Referee: D Pearson (England).

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