Brian O'Driscoll's perfect farewell as Ireland trounce Italy
Ireland 46 Italy 7: Brian O’Driscoll only played an hour of his last game in Dublin for Ireland – but what an hour.
Unloading a box of tricks, including out of the back passes and basketball lobs, he set up three of Ireland’s tries in a romp that gives them more than a sporting chance of securing the Six Nations titles in his final appearance in Paris next weekend.
When he departed on the hour, the Aviva stadium rose to a man, woman and child to acclaim a true Irish sporting icon – his race is nearly run but he is ensuring that his final lap of honour in green may well be trophy-laden.
His man of the match award was inevitable.
Two Jonny Sexton tries and one each from Cian Healy, Andrew Trimble. Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath propelled Ireland to a facile win against the game Italians, avenging last season’s shock reverse in Rome.
O’Driscoll led his side out although it was a pity he did so when more than a quarter of the 51,000 attendance had still refused to take their seats before the 140-times capper was introduced to his Dublin faithful for the last time in a green shirt.
They didn’t miss his first significant intervention. From a superb set-piece scrum, he ran a loop with Jonny Sexton and the Irish out-half scampered beyond the despairing Italian centre Gonzalo Garcia to dot down and nail the easy conversion, his fourth for Ireland.
There were only six minutes gone and already thoughts were turning towards the potential to sizeably increase Ireland’s points differential as they contemplate a second title in five seasons.
The Italians, as they had done against Wales first day out, were unbowed by the early concession and they played some sparkling stuff amongst their fresh-faced backs for the rest of the quarter as Ireland forced a lot of their play.
Ireland may have enjoyed 75% possession and turning over set-piece at will, but Italy’s enigmatic endeavour was rewarded when they drew level with a superb 25th minute turnover try when Andrew Trimble lost contact.
It was no surprise that it came from one of their fledgling backs, Leonardo Sarto, who destroyed the Kearney brothers and a desperate tackle attempt from O’Driscoll on the left flank of Ireland’s defence for a glorious touchdown.
Ireland responded strongly, Eoin Reddan almost made the line after breaking from a scrum, but as Cian Healy attempted to scramble, Marco Bortloami committed a professional foul.
There was no yellow card; only three points for Ireland and a 32nd minute three point lead, 10-7.
O’Driscoll was central to Ireland’s second try; first, when Ireland broke from their 22 following a tap penalty, as his flick set Rob Kearney free; then, with an outrageous dummy and basketball pass to try-scorer Trimble, his 14th for Ireland.
Sexton converted the cracking try in a belter of a game for a fairer first-half reflection of Ireland’s dominance, 17-7.
The theme continued apace in the second-half; Ireland controlling possession, with more emphasis on mauling, but unable to convert until, from close range, Cian Healy burrowed over in the 53rd minute for his third Irish try.
Referee Nigel Owens was on his knees when he whistled the 54th minute score; so were the gritty Italians, although Sexton erred for the first time of the afternoon to leave the score 22-7.
O’Driscoll was centrally involved again in Ireland’s fourth try, with an extraordinary offload from his left-hand side releasing the Kearney brothers to allow Sexton to claim his fourth try of the day on the hour for 27-7.
Ireland emptied their bench and their lungs in pursuit of vital points; Sean Cronin scored his first ever international try in 34 appearances.
O’Driscoll had long gone by then, departing on the hour, succumbing for the final time to his wearying body, despite the wondrous skills that had been evidenced for the previous 60 minutes.
It may take some time to realise we would never see his likeness again.
Ireland: R Kearney, A Trimble, B O’Driscoll (F McFadden 61), G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson 64), C Murray (E Reddan 17): C Healy (J McGrath 54), R Best (S Cronin 55), M Ross (M Moore 57); D Toner, P O’Connell capt, I Henderson (R Ruddock 54), C Henry, J Heaslip.
Replacements: J Murphy, , F McFadden.
Italy: L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Masi 64), L Sarto; L Orquera (T Allan 64), T Tebaldi (E Gori 71); A de Marchi (M Rizzo 57), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon 71), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini 8), Q Geldenhuys, M Bortalami capt (A Pavanello 64); J Furno, P Derbyshire (M Vosawai 57), R Barbieri.
Referee: N Owens (WRU)