Ireland 's 6 Nations campaign gathers momentum

<b>Italy 9 Ireland 38</b>: Irish celebrate scrappy victory at the Stadio Flaminio after crushing Italian resistance
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The Independent Online

Ireland's tilt at the RBS 6 Nations title gathered further momentum with a scrappy victory against Italy at the Stadio Flaminio.

Luke Fitzgerald crossed twice with Tommy Bowe, David Wallace and Brian O'Driscoll also touching down against a limited Azzurri who ran out of ideas after a rousing opening 35 minutes.

Italy were fired-up by the heavy criticism that greeted their 36-11 defeat by England last weekend but their passion could only take them so far.

Ireland crushed their resistance by cranking up the pressure at key moments, leading to scores for Fitzgerald and Wallace either side of the interval that swept them out of sight.

Luke McLean contributed all of Italy's points with three penalties and for all their possession and spirit, Nick Mallett's team never threatened the visitors' line.

Ireland will be disappointed by their failure to put the Azzurri to the sword in the second half which they dominated, a large error count preventing them from cutting loose.

Late tries from Fitzgerald and O'Driscoll, plundered when Italy's heads had dropped, gave the score a lopsided look that was harsh on the home team.

With Ireland hamstrung by their mistakes few players pushed their Lions claims, although Jamie Heaslip, Fitzgerald, Paul O'Connell and the free-running Bowe will feel better.

A clearer picture will emerge after Ireland's next assignment - England at Croke Park in a fortnight - when their Six Nations title aspirations are sure to be tested more fully.

Victory over France on the opening day has put them in a strong position that has been further improved by dispatching a smarting Italy.

The Azzurri were determined to atone for their Twickenham horror-show and tempers flared after just 40 seconds.

A clothes-line tackle by Andrea Masi on man of the match Rob Kearney incurred the wrath of several Ireland players and a yellow card for the Biarritz full-back.

Some robust defence around the fringes prevented the Irish from pressing home the advantage and when Wallace was penalised for holding on McLean booted Italy ahead.

Ronan O'Gara's early kicking - hindered by the wind - was poor but Ireland were able to build a head of steam with Kearney, O'Connell and Stephen Ferris making ground.

O'Gara, untrusting of the blustery conditions, turned down two long-range shots at goal usually within his reach in favour of finding touch.

Both attacking line-outs were picked apart by the wily Italians - Sergio Parisse catching the eye with one steal - before McLean landed another three points.

It was an impressive opening quarter from Italy, who were capitalising ruthlessly on Ireland's error-strewn display.

But they then paid a heavy price for a mistake of their own in the 19th minute when a promising attacking line-out was undone by ponderous move in midfield which allowed Bowe to sneak in and intercept a pass destined for Mirco Bergamasco.

With Masi absent at full-back, Bowe - pursued by three Italian defenders - had a clear run to the line and crossed the whitewash with Kaine Robertson attached to his back. O'Gara added the conversion.

Unperturbed by the breakaway try that had come against the run of play, Italy continued to press and were rewarded with a third McLean penalty that nudged them back in front.

Gonzalo Canale charged down a clearance by O'Gara and was then tackled without the ball by the Ireland fly-half, who received a yellow card as punishment.

Prop Salvatore Perugini joined O'Gara in the sin-bin for infringing at the line-out and after five minutes on the rack Italy's line finally cracked on the stroke of half-time.

Fully 19 phases of play passed when Ferris surged forward and offloaded in the tackle to Fitzgerald, who dashed home from eight metres with Kearney converting.

The second half opened in the same vein with Ireland pounding away at the home defence.

Heaslip almost crossed after running hard on to a Brian O'Driscoll offload but was hauled down inches short of the line.

Bowe then nearly wriggled over and once again the pressure eventually told with David Wallace picking a path through the ragged Italian defence for a try converted by O'Gara.

O'Gara landed his first penalty of the afternoon and at 24-9 ahead going into the final quarter with the Azzurri offering little in attack, Ireland looked in the clear.

The game seemed to have petered but Ireland burst into life in the final five minutes.

Fitzgerald and Gordon D'Arcy combined at a quickly-taken line-out to send the former in and with two minutes to go O'Driscoll galloped the length of the field on the intercept.

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