Irish coach Joe Schmidt recalls all his available front-line stars for a game which Italy must win to keep alive their hopes of making the last eight.
But how did O’Connell feel watching last night’s game?
But Ireland survived and duly booked their place in the playoffs, with next week’s clash with France in Cardiff being all about which of the two teams that have already qualified will go through in pole position from the group.
Italy team to face Ireland: L McLean, L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, G Venditti, T Allan, E Gori, M Aguero, A Manici, L Cittadini, Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, F Minto, S Favaro, S Parisse (capt). Nonetheless, with Italy’s lineout troubles continuing, it took two more penalties from Sexton in the 57th and 61st minutes to bridge a match-winning lead for the Six Nations champions. Sexton offloaded brilliantly to Robbie Henshaw who passed to Earls and he was not going to be stopped on his way to the line.
I know that a few of the errors that the All Blacks made were unforced, but certainly a lot of them were forced as well by really hard linespeed and organised defence.
Italy had to weather a concerted attacking effort from Ireland in the five minutes before halftime, and getting out of it without conceding points would have lifted them.
But the first appearance of fit-again captain Sergio Parisse roused the Italy squad, and it threatened a boilover by holding possession for long periods, and at 10-6 down in the second half, missed a try by a matter of inches. It was easily kickable, and Ireland thwarted their intentions of scoring a try by poaching yet another lineout.
Sexton had a chance to extend the lead but his long range penalty bounced back off the upright. He believes Ireland have learned the lessons from their first ever Six Nations loss to Italy – having been in Rome himself in 2013.
Allan’s third goal did get Italy to within one point before the Irish pack finally began to get on top.
The Italians though clung on tenaciously and penetrated the Irish line on several occasions only for their opponents to do just enough to hold them off.