Six Nations In Pictures: O’Gara sticks magical boot into Italy
Ireland 29 Italy 11
American guru Denis Waitley famously said: “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present towards the future.”
Saturday’s Ireland-Italy match was a case in point.
Defeat is a deeply etched way and fact of life for Italian rugby teams.
That is understandable; seven Wooden Spoons in 10 of the Six Nations Championships in which they have taken part, plus six victories and a draw in their 51 matches to date is not a record to inspire confidence.
They are weighed down by a history of defeats and that burden manifests itself in a clear lack of ambition.
Their past makes them a one-dimensional side, seemingly more motivated by attempting to stop opponents play than by any notion of trying to do so themselves.
As destroyers they are limited. As creators they offer nothing.
Anyone who spent 70-plus Euro to see them on Saturday must have left Croke Park feeling they had just been mugged by a 22-strong gang of very big blokes all wearing blue.
Ireland — who have been playing at this level for rather longer, it has to be said — have learnt from the past.
Last season saw them scale new heights and presently they are enjoying working towards the 2011 World Cup.
Between now and then, of course, there are two Six Nations campaigns to be played.
Having just begun the first of those with a ground-out win, Ireland are on their way.
One would like to think they will shake off the cobwebs which were present in what was their first outing since November 28.
There is much room for improvement, a point conceded voluntarily by coach Declan Kidney.
Flashes of what made them Grand Slam champions were evident but in all too short supply.
His counterpart, Nick Mallett, appeared to feel the Italians had achieved a goal of sorts by ensuring Ireland did not score 30 points.
To a certain extent one could appreciate his thinking for at the mid-way point Ireland led 23-8 and were giving the Italian line-out a caning.
Seven takes on the opposition throw? You don’t see that too often in modern-day rugby football.
The second of Ireland’s two first-half tries underlined the point, with Leo Cullen winning the ball at the tail of a shortened Italian shambles close to their own goal line in the 35th minute.
The big Leinster lock made the hard yards and scrum-half Tomas O’Leary got over from close range.
Fly-half Ronan O’Gara, whose off-the-tee kicking yielded a perfect six out of six, converted, just as he had 20 minutes earlier when Jamie Heaslip went over for a great try following a run by Ulster’s Andrew Trimble, superb support by Paul O’Connell, O’Leary, Rob Kearney and a wonderful pass by Brian O’Driscoll to release the scorer.
O’Gara had launched Trimble at the outset of that passage, re
minding us that there is more to his repertoire than the goal-kicking which saw him land three penalties and a brace of conversions before the break.
Kearney’s error in allowing an attempted clearance to be charged down handed Kaine Robertson a soft try almost on the interval and when play resumed Stade Francais winger Mirco Bergamasco promptly kicked a penalty to make it 23-11, Craig Gower having been on target in the 26th minute.
The third quarter was a dour cancelling out exercise.
Indeed, only six more points were scored with O’Gara and his replacement, Paddy Wallace, kicking penalties apiece in the 47th and 67th minutes respectively.
Ulster’s Wallace did well, upping the pace significantly in the final quarter. And Rory Best, who replaced Jerry Flannery for the final 24 minutes after a season ruined by injury, looked like he had never been away.
A winning start, but much work required ahead of Paris.