Saturday, February 05, 2011
Minutes separated the Italians from a historic first-ever-win over the Irish, but Ronan O'Garas late drop-goal shattered Azzurri dreams and sealed a tense 13-11 victory for the visitors.
A huge effort from the Italian pack, spearheaded by their outstanding captain Sergio Parisse, rattled and frustrated the Irish, who struggled to find any cohesion and will be thankful to OGara for saving their blushes.
It was a glorious day at the Stadio Flaminio and it was the home side that looked to be on top in the early stages. Martin Castrogiovanni was prominent in the tight and in the loose, giving Cian Healy a torrid time in the scrum, whilst Parisse terrorised the Irish breakdown and earned several key penalties.
Mirco Bergamasco got the Italians first points with two penalty kicks before Ireland replied with three points from Jonny Sexton. However, neither side could string together any successive phases, and the half ended with the visitors trailing 6-3.
Brian O'Driscoll crashed over for the games first try on the 44 minute mark and there was a sense that Ireland had weathered the storm. Yet the Azzurri were ferocious to the last, and with the scores at 6-10 the Italians sensed an upset was on the cards; this looked to be realised when swift hands saw fullback Luke McLean crash over for an unconverted score.
Unfortunately for the Italians, a win was not in the script, and a few minutes later replacement OGara snatched an Irish victory from the jaws of defeat.
Try-scorer O'Driscoll said: "The longer [Italy] stayed in the game, the more threatening they were going to be, as they showed with five minutes to go.
"We didn't kill them off, I threw a loose ball into touch [to Fergus McFadden] and we missed other chances. You can't cough it up against any side in Test rugby, and Italy nearly made us pay.
"Thankfully we won, which is probably the only thing we can take out of the game."