Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Italy edge out Ireland in Rome

Giovanbattista Venditti scored a second-half try for Italy
Giovanbattista Venditti scored a second-half try for Italy

Ireland succumbed to a first defeat by Italy in the RBS 6 Nations that left them perilously close to finishing with the wooden spoon.

Wing Giovanbattista Venditti scored a 49th-minute try while Luciano Orquera kicked 14 points and Gonzalo Garcia a long-range penalty as the hosts clinched a 22-15 victory.

All of Ireland's points were supplied by Paddy Jackson and small consolation came when France could not beat Scotland by the necessary margin to avoid the wooden spoon, meaning Ireland finished fifth in the championship.

If, as expected, this was to be Brian O'Driscoll's last match for Ireland it was not the way to end such a celebrated career as the finest player his country has produced. Apart from the result, O'Driscoll spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for stamping and was fortunate to escape a red card for an offence that is sure to result in a suspension.

From an early stage the Irish were in disarray, plugging holes left by injury and crumbling before a fired-up Italian side inspired by their omnipresent skipper Sergio Parisse and retiring prop Andrea Lo Cicero.

Lo Cicero, Italy's most capped player who was appearing in his final Test, drank in the applause as he departed in the final quarter and he could have envisaged few better outcomes for his send-off.

It was only the second time that the Azzurri had finished the Six Nations with two victories and the result will surely spell the end of Ireland head coach Declan Kidney, whose contract expires in the summer.

Once more Kidney was left firefighting a staggering succession of injuries that accounted for wing Keith Earls and centre Luke Marshall after only 25 minutes. Substitute Luke Fitzgerald then limped off shortly before half-time and having run out of three-quarter replacements other than scrum-half Paul Marshall, flanker Peter O'Mahony was deployed on the left wing.

It was a disastrous situation that perfectly summed up a chaotic Six Nations, but even allowing for the injury situation it is doubtful that defeat to Italy will be deemed acceptable to Kidney's Irish Rugby Football Union paymasters.

The petulance that swept into Ireland's game was disappointing, with Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray following O'Driscoll into the sin-bin, with the place kicking of Jackson one of the few positives.

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