Ireland secured their progression to the play-offs with a hard-fought 16-9 win over Italy at London’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Irish were far from convincing, lacking direction and decisiveness, while Italy were full of fight as they desperately searched for a way to stay in the hunt for a spot in the knockout phase.
However, in the end the Irish did enough to move ahead of France in Pool D, with the two sides assured of their place in the quarter-finals.
Italy suffered an early blow when centre Gonzalo Garcia hobbled from the field with an injury, with Ireland opening the scoring in the ninth minute when flyhalf Johnny Sexton slotted a penalty.
Opposite number Tommy Allan drew the scores level moments later, but it would be the Irish who finished off a beautiful backline move on the quarter-hour mark as Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls combined to good effect.
Earls’ try enabled Ireland to move into a 10-3 lead, but they struggled to find any real momentum, and Allan drew three points back in the 25th minute.
Ireland squandered a golden try-scoring opportunity late in the first half, and were forced to settle for a four-point lead at the break, having failed to make any real impression during the opening stanza.
Italy had a fantastic opportunity to take the lead soon after the restart, but lock Josh Furno, appearing on the wing with the tryline at his mercy, was bundled into touch.
Allan did make it a one-point ball game with a third penalty, but Sexton then slotted a three-pointer on either side of the hour mark to edge Ireland out to a 16-9 lead. The pivot missed a late penalty attempt on the stroke of full-time, but it mattered not as Ireland held on for a vital victory.
Ireland – Try: Keith Earls. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (3).
Italy – Penalties: Tommy Allan (3).
Ireland – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommy Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero.
Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images