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The good, the bad, and 2007: Ireland's recent ups and downs against Italy

We look back on five memorable clashes ahead of Saturday’s trip to Rome.

IRELAND TRAVEL TO Rome this weekend with high hopes of reigniting their Six Nations title chances, and possibly grabbing the tournament’s first-ever try bonus point.

Here, we reflect on five thrilling encounters between the sides in recent years.

Italy 3-26 Ireland

7 February 2015, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

The Ireland team stand for the National Anthem Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This game marked the beginning of Ireland’s preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with many supporters feeling it would be the last chance for some players to show their class on the international stage and stake a claim for selection.

Fans were devastated to see Seán O’Brien ruled out during the warm-up due to a hamstring injury, but a replacement more than capable of stepping up to the mark was named in the form of Munster openside Tommy O’Donnell.

Neither side was able to produce a particularly gripping brand of attacking rugby in the first half, Ian Keatley kicking three penalties before Kelly Haimona struck at half time to leave the score at 3-9 heading into the break.

Ireland returned to the field eager to increase the gap between themselves and the hosts, and did so through Keatley’s boot in the 57th minute before Conor Murray crossed the line in his typical sniping fashion after sustained pressure on the Italian defence.

The final try of the game came in the 66th minute after O’Donnell changed his line to burst through the broken line of blue shirts and score from 40 metres out.

Ireland 46-7 Italy

8 March 2014, Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Brian O'Driscoll receives a standing ovation as he is substituted Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Brian O’Driscoll was never going to disappoint in his final home appearance in the green jersey. He used his brilliant combination of flair and power to unlock the Italian defence, directly assisting in two first-half tries, and throwing a phenomenal offload to Rob Kearney deep in the Italian 22 which led to Johnny Sexton’s second try of the afternoon. His work done, he was substituted for Fergus McFadden to thunderous applause and calls of ‘One More Year’ ringing around Lansdowne Road.

Ireland dominated their opposition for the majority of the match, with Leonardo Sarto’s 24th-minute try coming as the only major defensive slip-up. They demonstrated a newfound hunger in attack, undoubtedly related to the previous round’s defeat against England. Johnny Sexton marshalled his troops well, ensuring that Ireland made the gainline with each and every attacking phase.

The continuous flow of tries throughout both the first half and the second sent a clear message to all of Ireland’s rivals: the loss at Twickenham meant nothing, and they were more than ready to take on the French and reclaim the Six Nations title for the first time since 2009’s Grand Slam.

Italy 22-15 Ireland

16 March 2013, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Paddy Jackson looks on dejected as Sergio Parisse celebrates Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The less said about this particular tournament, the better. Ireland finished in fifth position with just one win from five attempts, and even that sole victory was nearly squandered by a late Welsh comeback in Cardiff.

However, the Italians will look back on 2013’s Six Nations fondly, as they took the scalps of both Ireland and France, beating the Irish for the first time since joining with Europe’s rugby superpowers to form the Six Nations in 2000.

Ireland went into the fixture with a 17-match winning streak against the Azzurri, but an injury ravaged side meant that they were to lose this game.

Paddy Jackson kicked an early three points to give Ireland their only lead of the encounter. A combination of large periods of Italian pressure combined with Irish indiscipline led to the home side going 6-3 up before Brian O’Driscoll was yellow carded for stamping to give the Irish an even greater hill to climb. The two sides continued to exchange penalties leaving the half-time score at 9-6.

Giovanbattista Venditti managed to ground the ball in a fumbling of arms and legs in the 48th minute for the game’s only try. Ireland were given a lifeline when Sergio Parisse was shown yellow, but could not capitalise in the form of a try, instead closing the gap to a single point. Moments later Luciano Orquera once again demonstrated his abilities off the tee, before a last-minute penalty sealed a famous Italian victory.

Italy 9-38 Ireland

15 February 2009, Stadio Flaminio, Rome

Ronan O'Gara and Alessandro Zanni Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Each game from Ireland’s glorious Grand Slam campaign of 2009 can be seen as memorable in its own right, but this fixture in particular allowed Declan Kidney’s men to demonstrate their attacking ability, with moments of individual brilliance coming amidst immense Italian pressure. The match came eight days after the triumph over the French in Croke Park, so a large scoreline in Ireland’s favour was to be expected, although it didn’t always look certain.

It seemed as though the Italians were aiming to frustrate the Irish, pinning them back in their own half and taking three points whenever the opportunity arose. By the end of the half Ireland were leading 9-14, but it had been a sub-par display, with three yellow cards between the two sides in the first half alone leading to neither team being able to play with freedom in attack.

In the second half Ireland still seemed to lack a 15-man sense of direction, but a driving force of individual performances allowed for three more tries to be scored. Jamie Heaslip made a scintillating break through the heart of the Italian defence and was dragged down just five metres out before David Wallace skipped through the oncoming traffic to dot down four phases later.

Quick thinking from Gordon D’Arcy in the form of a quick lineout led to a late Luke Fitzgerald score, before Brian O’Driscoll intercepted to run in under the posts after the Italians had retained possession from the restart.

Italy 24-51 Ireland

17 March 2007, Stadio Flaminio, Rome

Jerry Flannery, David Wallace, Marcus Horan, Girvan Dempsey and Ronan O'Gara disappointed Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 2007 championship will always be remembered as the one that got away for Irish fans, missing out on the title due to the French having scored four more points throughout their ultimately successful campaign. Facing the Italians in the final week was seen as the perfect scenario for the men in green, as a high try count in the visitors’ favour was the usual result in Rome.

The two sides exchanged early penalties before superb handling from the Irish outside backs allowed Girvan Dempsey to score in the corner. Ireland were desperate to close the gap in points difference between themselves and France, and this was obvious to see as they elected to run the ball from within their own 22, as opposed to clearing their lines. This very nearly went awry for Ireland as Italy were awarded a scrum just 15 metres from the Irish line, but the ball was turned over and David Wallace offloaded to Simon Easterby, who followed his own pass to the flying Shane Horgan to score Ireland’s second of the afternoon.

Both O’Gara’s place kicking and the Irish lineout were misfiring, leaving the Irish to feel that they may have left points, and ultimately the Championship, on the pitch.

A superb inside ball to Denis Hickie led to Gordon D’Arcy leaving Italian fullback De Marigny in the dust for 12-20 at the break.

Just five minutes into the second half Girvan Dempsey took a superb line inside Ronan O’Gara to score his 17th try in 74 test appearances. Denis Hickie once again turned provider for Shane Horgan to dot down in the 52nd minute. The left winger then scored one of his own two minutes later, ignoring the options to his outside and choosing to go himself after a superb rolling maul gave the Irish fantastic field position.

Gordon D’Arcy used his feet to break through the Italian line, again from deep inside the Irish 22, before linking up with Brian O’Driscoll, and just as the move looked as if it had dwindled out, Ronan O’Gara came storming onto a Peter Stringer offload to grab a vital seven points.

The closing minutes proved to be a delight for neutral fans, with tries flowing between both sides. First, Italian captain and lock-forward Marco Bortolami was on the end of a cross-field kick, and moments later Denis Hickie once again scythed through the blue line of defence to get Ireland past the 50-point mark.

Ireland’s desperation for tries proved to be their downfall. They had several opportunities to kick for touch and end the game after the clock went dead, but instead looked for another try. The Italians applied the pressure and pinned them back in their own half, before being awarded a penalty which led to De Marigny going over in the corner.

Heartbreak for Ireland who missed out on the Six Nations title for another year.

– An earlier version of this article featured a photo from an Ireland v Italy match in August 2007.

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About the author:

Luke Gilmartin

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