Six Nations Game 1 - Ireland vs Italy (16-11)
After their disappointing performance in the World Cup last autumn, Ireland were out to prove they can play decent rugby. The game took a while to get going, but around ten minutes, Ireland managed to put together a few phases and attack the Italian line, but the Azzurri turned the ball over to save a try. Ireland managed a penalty a few minutes later, taken by Ronan O'Gara [left]. Then Ireland threw away another scoring opportunity when Geordan Murphy put a poor pass over to Girvan Dempsey, and Italy gathered.
Ireland got a scrum, and the ball was passed across several hands when it reached O'Gara, who punted a great cross-field kick to Andrew Trimble, who then passed to fullback Girvan Dempsey to finish it off. O'Gara took the extras, taking him to 400 points in the Championship.
Eoin Reddan [right] was making his first Six Nations start, and looked pretty sharp, providing quick ball to O'Gara and sniping at the scrum. Peter Stringer has made the green No.9 jersey his own for many a year, so Reddan definitely has a tough job to break into the team permanently. Similarly, Italy's permanent fixture at Hooker, Alessandro Troncon, has now retired, and the Azzurri were giving Leonardo Ghiraldini his second cap.
Italy's lineout was working well, compared to the Irish; Rory Best didn't have his best day at the office. Towards the break, Santiago Dellape was sent to the bin for punching, but the remaining 14 Italians threw everything at the Irish defence. Their reward was a penalty, and they went in at half time 10-3.
Straight after half time, Reddan made a lovely break and it looked like a try was inevitable, but Ireland knocked on with the line beckoning. Later, Simon Easterby [left] spent ten minutes in the sinbin for playing the ball off his feet. Italy gained a penalty opportunity, but the kick went wide.
Around 55 minutes, Italy were pinged and O'Gara potted another 3 points easily. When Easterby came back on, Italy made a good break up the field and on the stroke of 60 minutes, they rolled a maul over the line. The video ref took an age to decide, but the score was good. Captain Sergio Parisse was the man closest to the ground. But David Bortolussi missed the conversion, and the score moved on to 13-8.
Italy were caught with hands in the ruck in the 65th minute, which was a gift of another 3 points for Ronan O'Gara. And 3 minutes later, Ireland gave away a penalty themselves, which Bortolussi slotted over.
Both teams kept fighting for the last ten minutes, but the final score stood at 16-11. Italy certainly didn't discrace themselves this time round - their lineout was solid - they only lost one all afternoon, certainly better than the Irish lineout which looked shakey at times. O'Gara missed a late penalty which was quite unusual from him - it wasn't a particularly difficult shot.
As usual, the Italian forwards were very physical, and there were plenty of big hits put in. Ronan O'Gara bossed the Irish team reasonably well, but they looked a bit shakey - less than convincing. The bright spark for them was Eoin Reddan, who proved himself to be a great option at 9 - he made some lovely runs at the breakdown and distributed well. I'm sure he'll be seen in a green shirt again very soon, and fully deserved his Man of the Match award.
[Eoin Reddan, Ireland's Man of the Match in action for Wasps last season]