Ireland got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start courtesy of a 26-16 victory over Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

But the Italians can return home with their heads held high - they outplayed their hosts in an number of areas of play and produced the only moments of inspiration in a largely forgettable opener to the 2006 Six Nations.

Ireland probably ended the match relieved that their stuttering effort was enough for victory; Pierre Berbizier may well have ended the match proud of his men as a new expansiveness came to the Italians on attack and a greater resolution as they rushed to tackle.

Half-time came with the scores locked at 10-all, a score which did not entirely flatter Ireland as they had had the attacking edge against an Italian side which from the start was expansive and creative.

Ireland levelled the scored moments before half-time when little Ramiro Pez was penalised for a late tackle in a passing movement and sent to the sin-bin. The referee said it was the third late tackle by Italy though only one had been penalised previously, when the referee spoke to Marco Bortolami.

Moments before the sin-binning of Pez, Bortolami had himself been the victim of an unpleasant use of the boot by Brian O'Driscoll, which provoked Italian ire.

There had been a tackle/ruck and Bortolami had dived in. O'Driscoll came down with his boot on the middle of Bortolami's back/side. It was not a rucking movement at all. The referee spoke briefly to O'Driscoll and Bortolami but stayed with the penalty against the Italian. That penalty led to a line-out and the passing movement in which Pez was penalised. An amount of Italy ruefulness was understandable.

In fact, the business of using the boot on a player without trying to ruck the ball was a source of anger for the Italians.

O'Driscoll used his boot on Mirco Bergamasco and then later in the match Denis Leamy really annoyed the Italians when he used his boot close to Paul Griffin's head. Ireland were not penalised but Martín Castrogiovanni was for punching as the went to help his player. That penalty was followed by another which O'Gara used to make the score 26-16.

Italy had good support at enthusiastic Lansdowne Road with several in curly blue wigs, and there was plenty of them to enjoy as Italy attacked.

They started running with good work by Gonzalo Canale and Cristian Stoica who came in from fullback. Italy looked to have the edge in the scrums and Ireland lost its first two line-outs.

When Italy mauled from a line-out near the Irish line, the Irish defence coped easily.

From a line-out just inside the Irish half, Italy went right and then changed direction to go left. Pez sent through a grubber which caused Anthony Horgan problems. Ludovico Nitoglia tackled the big Irish wing who got up with the ball and was penalised. Pez goaled. 3-0 after 13 minutes. At that stage Italy had had 68 percent of possession and over 60 percent of territorial advantage.

Ireland then had two excellent moments, one on the left and then one on the right, which they followed with a try.

First a long pass from a scrum sent Geordan Murphy racing. He gave to Tommy Bowe who was tackled out five metres from the Italian line. Ireland next went right with Horgan speeding down the right wing where he was tackled into touch five metres from the Italian line.

Italy shortened the line-out and threw to the back but up rose immense Paul O'Connell rose up and grabbed the ball in front of Sergio Parisse. Ireland mauled and when they fell over the line Jerry Flannery had scored the try which O'Gara converted. 7-3 to Ireland after 27 minutes.

Two minutes later Italy were back in the lead with a splendid try. With a dinky dummy Pez cut between O'Gara and D'Arcy and raced down the middle of the field. He passed to his left to Mirco Bergamasco who got over the line for the try near the posts, which Pez converted. 10-7 after 29 minutes.

Just before the break O'Gara goaled the penalty which put his side on level terms.

Early in the second half Italy attacked and had a goalable penalty but tapped and ran. Wing Pablo Canavosio, playing scrumhalf which is his more usual position, was close and then Mirco Bergamasco was close, but Ireland were penalised when Simon Easterby came in the side at the tackle/ruck. Griffin took the kick because Pez was still in the sin-bin and with a wide curve he goaled it. 13-10 to Italy.

Soon afterwards O'Gara kicked his third diagonal for Bowe. Practice makes perfect, and the ball landed in Bowe's hands. The wing cut inside Stoica and scored in Mauro Bergamasco's tackle, with some queries about his grounding of the ball. O'Gara goaled. 17-13 and from then on Ireland stayed ahead.

O'Gara goaled a penalty with an in-off and then Pez goaled one when Marcus Horan, struggling in the scrums, was penalised. 20-16 with 18 minutes to go.

Two more penalties by O'Gara ended the scoring but the Italians came closest to a try. Canale went on the loop and kicked ahead but a touch-and-go failure to gather five metres from the Irish line gave the Irish a scrum. At that stage Ireland were leading 23-16.

Man of the Match: For Italy, Fabio Ongaro had a good match at hooker and so did loose forward Sergio Parisse with a zig-zag hairdo but the best of the Italians was lively, energetic, hirsute Paul Griffin. For Ireland, Gordon D'Arcy got better and better and Geordan Murphy looked for every opportunity to run. But our man-of-the-match was Paul O'Connell who made such a difference in the line-outs and everywhere else.

Moment of the Match: That diagonal from Ronan O'Gara to Tommy Bowe was fun but predictable. Our moment-of-the-match was the dummy and break by Ramiro Pez that led to Italy's try.

Villain of the Match: Ramiro Pez got the yellow card but the boot men on the Irish side may well deserve a finger pointed their way.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Flanery, Bowe
Cons: O'Gara
Pens: O'Gara 4

For Italy:
Try: Mi Bergamasco
Con: Pez
Pens: Pez 3

Yellow card(s): Pez, Italy -late tackle, 38

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Malcolm O'Kelly (Donncha O'Callaghan, 62), 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Unused replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Simon Best, 19 Johnny O'Connor, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Italy: 15 Cristian Stoica, 14 Pablo Canavosio, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Ludovico Nitoglia, 10 Ramiro Pez, 9 Paul Griffen, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco (Aaron Persico, 62), 6 Josh Sole, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain) (Carlo Del Fava, 26-32, 69), 4 Santiago Dellapè, 3 Carlos Nieto (Martin Castrogiovanni, 70), 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Unused replacements: 16 Carlo Antonio Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 21 Simon Picone, 22 Rima Wakarua.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Touch judges: Joël Jutge (France), Nigel Owens (Wales)
Television match official: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
by ysteio | 2006-02-05 10:50 | Six Nations