How we rated Ireland as they sneaked through Italy test

It wasn’t pretty, but Ireland are in the quarter-finals.

WELL, THAT WAS interesting…

Simon Zebo: 5

None of the back three was given much to work with. Zebo didn’t put a foot wrong, but Rob Kearney’s ability to generate momentum with aerial takes was missed.

Tommy Bowe: 6

Ireland’s best chaser of the high ball and constantly looked for work infield.

Simon Zebo with Giovanbattista Venditti Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Keith Earls: 6

Got his record-breaking try thanks to a support line, but footwork in tight spaces was is far from his ideal setting.

Robbie Henshaw: 6

Produced an offload of all things to set up Keith Earls’ try. Italian possession forced him to make 12 tackles. That midfield power is a welcome addition and he’ll be better for today’s run-out.

Dave Kearney: 5

Bar one second half break across field, was never really in the game

Johnny Sexton: 6

Set the frustrating tone with a careless knock on and a charge down when trying to force the game in the first half. As ever, though, tends to make up for the errors with powerful line breaks and gentle reverse passes that provide Ireland’s breakthroughs.

Conor Murray: 6

Slamming the ball to the deck summed up Ireland’s first half. Consistently whipped inviting passes for his team-mates to run on to, but his kicking game is well off his best and too many box kicks were not chased. Whether the fault lies with Murray for that is up for debate, but it’s not a good sign either way.

Jack McGrath: 6

Pretty much error free, but had to be sacrificed before the hour to get Cian Healy on the field. Had the scrum ticking over nicely, but every forward should take responsibility for the stuttering maul.

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Rory Best: 7

The last of the front rows to be replaced as he was one of a small band of forwards to play very well. Looked for carries in hard yards when Ireland needed it in the endgame and ensured the line-out functioned well to set up the ill-fated mauls.

Mike Ross: 6

Worryingly, got smashed aside by Sergio Parisse early on. That didn’t set a personal tone for him, however, as the set-piece enjoyed a consistent day.

Iain Henderson: 8

Devin Toner was good when he came on to help Ireland steer home, but Henderson was Ireland’s best player. Most of his team-mates failed to match his work-rate, enthusiasm and physicality.

He even managed to further the comparison between himself and Stephen Ferris by man-handling Edoardo Gori and driving him backwards with the ball in hand. The reason Ferris’ iconic act was more impressive was because he was joined by seven more forwards.

Iain Henderson tackles Luke McLean Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Paul O’Connell: 7

A relatively off day for the great captain. However, aside from one or two lazy penalty give-aways he could be seen carrying the fight with powerful leg drives for hard yards and also got through 10 tackles from lock.

Peter O’Mahony: 7

A late sin-bin was evidence of a nation’s frustration. For the other 70 minutes, the Cork man was excellent. His last-ditch tackle on Josh Furno was clearly crucial in a seven-point win. He also stole the line-out that set up Earls’ try and chipped in his ever-abrasive breakdown effort.

Sean O’Brien: 7

Claimed some important turnovers in the first half, but was always well-marshalled when attempting to carry in close quarters. He made 14 of those carries for his country today, making on average less than two metres per carry. Hard yards.

Jamie Heaslip: 6

Guilty of some frustrating penalties in the first half and wasn’t able to help buck the worrying trends after the break. A big game player who will doubtless be much-improved when Ireland hit Cardiff.

As it happened: Ireland v Italy, Rugby World Cup

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