Thirty-five minutes into Saturday’s clash with Italy O’Leary fights his way over the line for Ireland’s second try, O’Gara slots the conversion, Ireland lead 23-3. Everything going to script. After an understandably cagey opening the defending Grand Slam champions were starting to find their rhythm. All that was left was for the Italian heads to drop, Ireland to grow in confidence and Bowe, Drico and co. run in another three or four tries.
A block down try, another Italian penalty and an all-round nervy second half….definitely not in the script. It’s true that rustiness is always evident in the first outing of any international campaign, it’s also true that you must respect your opposition at this level no matter what their history, but lets not beat around the bush here, Ireland are looking for back to back slams, Italy would love to not get the wooden spoon.
Kidney will be happy that the scrum stood up to the Italian test and the line out functioned flawlessly, but with these solid foundations there’s no excuse for Ireland not boasting a thirty-point winning margin at the final whistle. There were flashes of ambition, O’Gara’s flat pass to Trimble who cut through the Italian rearguard in the build up to Heaslip’s try. BOD’s cheeky chip and chase, but one struggles to think of instances where Bowe, Trimble or Darcy linked to any notable effect.
Italy came, as they always do, with a game plan based around containment. They slowed Irish ball effectively at every ruck and in possession resorted to the boot time and time again. It was up to Ireland, the team with more talent all around the park to up the tempo, get the sizeable home crowd excited and cause some panic in the opposition defence. Credit must go to the visitors in this department they defended doggedly throughout and really made Ireland question how they could be broken.
Stout Italian defence aside, it was not good enough from the men in green. Kidney’s side were all too content to keep the flat pace of the game and just go through the phases without even a hint of creativity. A similar showing in the Stade de France next weekend will see the dream of consecutive slams brought to an abrupt end. One game down, one victory in the bag, so it’s job done, but in terms of making a statement to the other contenders, Saturdays performance will not have had the French, Welsh or the English shaking in their seats.