Ireland 26 Italy 16: O'Driscoll stamping ban threatens Ireland

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This should have been exciting, instead it was all citing and biting. Ireland crawled away from a scrappy Six Nations Championship opener with little credit and a great deal of worry as their next match against France on Saturday looms.

This morning a cloud hangs over the immediate future of Brian O'Driscoll, who is waiting to see if the match commissioner, Rob Flockhart of Scotland, is going to cite him for an alleged stamping on the Italy hooker Fabio Ongaro.

If O'Driscoll were to be called before a disciplinary panel, and was found guilty of either stamping or illegal rucking and then handed the minimum sentence of a month, then he would be out of Ireland's next two Six Nations matches against France in Paris (11 February) and Wales (26 February).

O'Driscoll denied that he stamped on Ongaro. "Rucking the ball is part of the game," the Ireland captain said. "If you find yourself on the wrong side of a ruck you can expect to be rucked off. As far as I was concerned I was doing exactly that."

Irish misery did not stop there. They claimed after the match that one of their players, the flanker Simon Easterby, was bitten on the arm by Martin Castrogiovanni, who is to join Leicester from next season. Castrogiovanni is also facing the possibility of being cited. If the 17-stone tight-head prop were to be found guilty of biting he could be banned for anything from six to 36 months.

To crown it all, neither of Ireland's tries should have been allowed, according to a perplexed Italy coach, Pierre Berbizier.

"The two tries should have been studied by the video referee," Berbizier said. "When the second try was awarded we were 13-10 ahead. It changed the whole complexion of the match. The second try was certainly not a try and I would like to see the first on video."

Jerry Flannery, making his first start in his second match for Ireland, claimed the first try and was adamant it was good, even though replays suggested a knock-on over the line.

"It was definitely a try. No doubt," the 27-year-old Munster hooker said. "I know I didn't knock it on. The referee was in a good position to my left and I just placed the ball down."

Tommy Bowe, the scorer of their second try, was not quite so sure of his ground. "I'm certain that I grounded the ball for a fraction of a second." A hesitation, then: "Yes, I grounded it, well, maybe. I think the ball was grounded."

The opinion that mattered, though, was that of the referee, England's Dave Pearson, who was making his international debut. Pearson was absolutely certain the tries were good. And he was in the right place to make that call.

"I had no doubts about either of them," he said. "Flannery was always in control of the ball, he carried it close to his body and from where I was standing you could clearly see the ball going down slowly. As for the second try, I am convinced that Tommy Bowe put the ball on the deck."

However, the terrier-like Berbizier - the former scrum-half, captain and coach of France - would not let it go. "I think the referee should ask for the video referee. It is too important not to," he said.

The miserable afternoon was completed by an under-par Irish performance. The O'Driscoll-Gordon D'Arcy axis, probably the most lethal centre pairing in the world, was reduced to scavenging for scraps by Italy's "blitz" defence tactic whereby the opposition covered the intervening ground on Ireland ball with the speed of a Ferarri. It might well be that the Italians set off from an offside position to help to reduce the distance, but the stratagem worked and they were not picked up for offside.

The Irish were not nearly so efficient, not in the first half anyway. The fly-half Ronan O'Gara missed Ramiro Pez when the Italy outside-half accelerated away and set up Mirco Bergamasco for the Azzurri's solitary touchdown. Pez proved a pest throughout the game, either buzzing through on countless occasions or belting the ball over the top to turn the lumbering Irish forwards.

Neither the set-piece nor the line-out was dominated by Ireland. They had their work cut out merely holding their own at times and they lost more line-outs than their opponents despite the presence of the locks Malcolm O'Kelly and Paul O'Connell.

As O'Driscoll said: "If we go out and play anything like that against the French we will be in serious trouble.

"We didn't play well but managed to grind out a win. There will always be games like that... I'm an eternal optimist and I'll try to take the positives out of this result."

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (capt, Leinster), 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), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: 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 Ongaro (Treviso), C Nieto (Viadana), S Dellape (Agen), M Bortolami (capt, Narbonne), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), Sergio Parisse (Stade Français). Replacements: M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano) for Nieto, 67; C-A Del Fava (Bourgoin) for Bortolami, 26-32 & 67; A Persico (Agen) for Mauro Bergamasco, 62.

Referee: D Pearson (England).

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