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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
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Match report: Ireland show the world they're here to play

Declan Kidney’s men progress after impressive win over Azzurri.

Brian O'Driscoll and his team-mates celebrate after the game.
Brian O'Driscoll and his team-mates celebrate after the game.
Image: PA images.

MUCH LIKE THE devil, Italy thrive on chaos.

Ireland’s job today was to keep it clean and simple, let talent be the deciding factor.

The final winning margin of 36-6 was fully deserved, as they not only secured a quarter final spot, but put in the most clinical performance of the season by any European side.

Where the win over Australia was all emotion and desire, this one was mean and focused and professional, a thorough annihilation of a decent Italian side.

The opening exchanges were messy, Sean O’Brien and Quintin Geldenhuys knocking on when under no pressure, and Tommy Bowe throwing a no-look pass that was never on, but Ireland always looked the more threatening in open play, changing the point of attack at every opportunity, forwards and backs interlinking well throughout.

It didn’t lead to any tries for the first 40 minutes, three O’Gara penalties giving them a 9-6 lead going into the break, but the blueprint for success was there.

There was a different level of intent in the second period, however, O’Brien and Ferris going from snarl to roar, both carrying three times in the first five minutes, blasting through inside shoulders every time. Italy were bruised and pulpy, ripe for squashing . A smart outside arc by Tommy Bowe, followed by a simple but brilliant inside pass to the supporting O’Driscoll did the damage, opening it out to a 19-6 lead after 47 minutes.

That ignited Ireland’s best period of the game, Darcy, O’Brien and O’Connell gaining ground at will, and as the Italian defence began to wilt Ferris again showed there’s brains to go with all that brawn, neatly putting Keith Earls in for what was effectively the deciding score.

Things got scrappy for a period after that as scrums collapsed and the Italians got tetchy, but the final bell saw Andrew Trimble show great composure in tight space to put Earls over for his second of the night, sending a huge Irish crowd into raptures.

If Ireland are to go beyond the quarters, they will need to play well for longer periods, but there was an encouraging collective understanding of where the space was and who to put into that space. The Italians had plenty of possession and grunt, but the guile only came from one quarter, and the stand-out performers all wore green.

O’Gara missed only one kick at goal, Murray made two breaks and passed well, Bowe and Earls were sharp as tacks, and the pack once again showed they have the fire and ice required at this level.

This was more than a win, it was cold-hearted destruction, deliberate and tough, and it has sent a message out to the rest of the teams in the tournament – Ireland are here to play.

As it happened: Ireland v Italy

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