Ireland secured a bonus point win against Italy, but there were far too many mistakes in the performance to leave anyone feeling too happy about the result.
The final score was 16-26 with the Italians missing a late penalty kick that would have earned a losing point and from that miss Ireland knocked the ball on after Stockdale broke down the pitch.
This summed up the match: lost opportunity for a rare Italian win in the Six Nations and a error strewn Irish performance. Joe Schmidt’s men stumbled over the finish line.
The game opened with Irish pressure and although they wasted early chances in the Italian twenty-two, an early line out malfunction ending one attack prematurely, the continuous pressure led to the first try, Quinn Roux pushing over for a try after sustained pressure.
The Italians put on their own pressure for a while, forcing a number of penalties from the Irish, slotting a kick to get on the scoreboard.
They made a complete mess of the restart, however, the forward pod missing the ball and backs not dealing with the loose ball. Stockdale pounced, scooping up the loose ball and handing off Mbanda and sprinting across the line. Sexton was unable to convert, the swirling wind in the stadium causing both kickers and receivers issues throughout the game.
Italian dominance continued after the restart. They seemed to hit the line faster than the Irish and were able to expose us in places. They earned another shot at goal to make it 6-12. The first half ended with the Irish on the back foot.
Italy’s tries both came from Irish mistakes. The first was from a lost line out, our own. The Italians reacted faster to the turnover and closed in on the Irish try line. A few nice passes out wide found Padovani in plenty of space to touch down.
A few minutes later Ireland were deep in the Italian twenty-two. Conor Murray was just about the pass the from a ruck when his opposite number, Tebaldi, snatched it from his grasp and sprinted clear.
His kick forward looked like it would be gathered by Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, but Earls was pushed in the back, taking him out of it, and Kearney overshot the ball.
The Italians recovered possession but the Irish defence just about held them out, but not for long. The ball was moved to the opposite wing where Morisi scored. Neither of the Italian tries were converted but they went in at half time 16-14.
Ireland looked a little shaky after half time but did begin to play some better rugby, keeping possession and building up long series of phases. Keith Earls showed that he can score in a tight spot by finishing by sneaking in after a long period of pressure on the Italian five meter line.
Johnny Sexton did not take the conversion, worryingly, obviously feeling strain on his hamstring again. Conor Murray stepped up and tacked on the two extra points.
He also scored the last points of the game. The Irish maul was not brilliant today, being turned over a couple of times. Peter O’Mahony was tackled in the air but still managed to set up the maul. With the referee giving Ireland the advantage they closed on the line.
Murray was in complete control of the maul, his hands on the ball all the time as he steered it through the Italian forwards. As things descended into chaos he broke away and scored, converting his own try.
Bonus point was secured and some of the Irish looked like they might have been ready to board the plane home right then and there, but the game had certainly not been won yet.
Italian pressure earned them a series of penalties as they progressed into Irish territory. Common sense (at least to me) says that they should have gone for three points to make it a single score game, but instead they kicked for a line out.
In a pivotal moment the Irish defence held and cleared, with that effort winning the game. The bench was emptied at this stage, Jack Carty getting a few minutes only on his debut.
Italy’s kick at goal from a penalty was called by the manager, Conor O’Shea having come down to pitch side, overruling the on-field decision to kick for the corner once more. It was the right call, I think, but poorly executed. The high pressure kick never looked like it was going over.
A last charge up the field by Stockdale, who could have ended the game by touching the ball down in his own dead ball zone or kicking into touch allowed the game to go out with a bit of a sparkle. His offload to the chasing Earls missed the mark and was knocked on.
Not sure that there is a lot more to say. Ireland got the win they need to stay in the hunt for the championship. They are only in it due to the fantastic Welsh victory over England in the Principality Stadium.
We have to travel there for the final game of the competition and that would appear to be a daunting challenge considering the awful slump in form that we are seeing, both individually and collectively.
There is a malaise that has entered the camp since the announcement of Joe’s departure after the World Cup. I hope he has not lost the respect of the dressing room, as that is usually impossible to win back.
It also makes it difficult for his successor, as he is such an integral part of the existing coaching setup.
Lots of game time left before the World Cup. No time to panic yet. This much changed line up was caused by absence due to injury and may be transitory. Ireland’s strength in depth is being testing and just about holding but getting players like Ringrose, Toner and Ryan back would settle the nerves a little more.