Category: Archive

Rugby Roundup: One up, two down

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

D’Arcy and O’Driscoll were forced to leave the field at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome last Sunday towards the end of a bruising encounter with hamstring injuries.
In the immediate aftermath of Ireland’s unconvincing win, coach Eddie O’Sullivan was already suggesting that his two star backs would have to sit out the match against the Scots.
In fact, it seems that D’Arcy could now be in danger of missing the entire championship, so it was with an obvious mixture of relief and disappointment that O’Sullivan reflected on a difficult passage for his team.
“I’m very pleased to have won the game first and foremost, but you have to give credit to Italy. They played very well and we struggled at times. We knew it would take 70 minutes or so to wear them down and that’s what happened in the end. Happy with the victory, but seriously concerned about the injuries.”
O’Sullivan would have been seriously concerned for periods of a torrid contest as well. Italy owned the ball for much of the first half, at the end of which the Irish were decidedly lucky to be 8-6 ahead thanks to Geordan Murphy’s try and a Ronan O’Gara penalty.
But the visitors were still struggling when Italy’s fullback Roland de Marigny gave his side the lead with a penalty. Apart from one or two searing runs by O’Driscoll in midfield, Ireland were creating precious little as their forwards were dominated in every area bar the line-out.
Then there was some respite when Peter Stringer crossed for a try following forceful approach work by O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan, and after O’Gara and De Marigny traded penalties, Ireland looked to be heading in the right direction at 18-12.
However, Italy was still buoyant and aggressive and wing Ludovico Nitoglia had a golden chance of a try, only to fail to ground the ball as Murphy and Denis Hickie challenged with a double-tackle.
The Italians could have had the last word when Leandro Castrogiovanni ploughed over, if it not for Hickie bursting through earlier for a third try to make the game safe for Ireland.
If the Italians managed to punch above their weight, this was a hugely disappointing performance by the Irish forwards. Out-muscled in the scrums and frequently beaten to the ball at the breakdown, only Malcolm O’Kelly, who equaled Mike Gibson’s record tally of 69 international appearances, emerged with any credit.
The normally fiery Paul O’Connell was largely anonymous, as were Anthony Foley and Simon Easterby while the front row of Reggie Corrigan, Shane Byrne and John Hayes were dominated by their Italian opponents.
For back row Denis Leamy, making his first appearance in the championship, the game was a chastening experience as he failed to make his usual impact.
Elsewhere, O’Gara was unconvincing as he had obvious difficulty in timing the Italian ball with his tactical kicking, and all in all, there was a surprising lethargy, barring the superb O’Driscoll, about Ireland’s display.
“We didn’t have the ball for any length of time,” offered Byrne, “we never really got a beach-head in their half. These are things you just can’t do against Italy because they’re not growing any more. They’re here, and if you give them any hope they’re well up for it.”
But what now with the likelihood that both O’Driscoll and D’Arcy will be missing for the next match?
“The health of our squad is going to affect our progress in the tournament,” said O’Sullivan. “If we got too many injuries in the wrong places, then that could make an impact.”
With Ireland still one of the favorites in an open championship, the door is already half-open following England’s dramatic 11-9 defeat by Wales in Cardiff, and with France lucky to scrape by against Scotland by 16-9 in Paris, no one team has yet laid down a marker.
Horgan and Kevin Maggs could form the center partnership against the rejuvenated Scots in Edinburgh on Saturday with Girvan Dempsey or Murphy playing on the wing, but whatever about the loss of two key attackers, the Ireland forwards must get their act together otherwise hopes of a first championship success since 1985 will soon be gone.

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