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Ten minutes of awesome Ireland tore heart out of Italy challenge

It just took 10 minutes to make it happen. The second half was still in its infancy when Ireland suddenly did what had already been threatened and exploded out of the blocks to leave Italy floundering in their wake.

Seventeen unanswered points were scored and, from leading 12-6 after the first half arm-wrestle, Ireland were now 26-6 in front and out of sight to book their quarter-final against Wales as the unbeaten Pool C winners.

Suddenly, the jitters were gone and even the memory of Ronan O’Gara’s last-ditch drop goal to win the Six Nations game in Rome back in February had been purged.

Instead, Ireland had upped the ante and safely secured their place in Wellington on Saturday.

But what a 10 minutes they had played.

O’Gara had opened it with an early penalty and had missed a drop goal before two set-piece moves carved Italy wide open.

Good lineout ball saw Gordon D’Arcy launched up the middle and the centre put his head down and made yardage against a yielding Italian defence. That created the space for the on fire Tommy Bowe to arc his run between two defenders and pick out Brian O’Driscoll who had run a lovely line on Bowe’s right.

O’Gara converted and then, with a limited Italy reeling, came the game’s pivotal moment involving one of its most central players; Cian Healy.

The prop, who had already been apparently gouged by Perugini, won a penalty off his nemesis at the scrum and Ireland kicked for touch for another lineout attack.

It was pretty much the same move as O’Driscoll’s score, with D’Arcy on the straight charge, but this time the Italians didn’t even hold him and that created the momentum.

The ball was shifted right and then opened up left where the immense Stephen Ferris showed his intelligence to fix the struggling defence before releasing Earls for the corner.

O’Gara even obliged with the touchline conversion and, well, it was game over.

Earls then got his second assisted by Andrew Trimble, the player Earls is keeping out of the side. And not to be outdone, Jonathan Sexton then put over his touchline conversion.

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It was a rout and should have been more with Bowe denied a score and a penalty try ignored.

Right now, it’s looking good but a word of caution; this was a poor Italian side. Wales will be better and if they can negate Sean O’Brien and if Rory Best is out, well, it will take much more than a great 10 minutes to win.

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