Ireland are through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup after defeating Italy 16-9 in a close encounter at the Olympic Park on Sunday.
Munster’s Keith Earls scored his eighth Rugby World Cup try to become Ireland’s record RWC try scorer, as Leinster’s Johnny Sexton added the extras with the boot, to see the Irish into the quarters ahead of this weekend’s final pool clash with France.
An early penalty from Sexton got the scoreboard underway before a line-out steal from flanker Peter O’Mahoney set Ireland’s backs alight in the midfield. Sexton and Robbie Henshaw combined effectively to send Earls through to the left of the posts, with Sexton converting successfully.
The quality of the Italian defence kept Irish momentum at bay, as Sergio Parisse put in a ferocious shift for 68 minutes to keep his men in contention. Italy’s out-half Tommaso Allan kicked two penalties either side of half-time to bring the score within a point at 10-9.
O’Mahoney was involved once again and made a crucial corner flag tackle to force lock Josh Furno into touch, as the game entered into a nervy period for Joe Schmidt’s men after the break.
Ireland’s indiscipline and handling errors (10 penalties and 14 turnovers conceded) contributed to a lacklustre performance. However, Sexton kicked two penalties in the 57th and 61st minutes to keep Ireland in the lead.
With seven points now separating the two sides, O’Mahony was sin-binned in the 71st minute, leaving his team with only 14 men in the closing stages and a physical Italian side firing on all cylinders.
Sexton missed a final penalty attempt at the sticks but Ireland kept control of the ball during the final minutes, with the Leinster man kicking out to touch to signal enough is enough!
Although the Irish are now successfully through to the quarter-finals, this weekend’s clash with France sets up the pool D decider, with the winner avoiding the mighty All Blacks in the next round. All is still left to play for and Ireland must improve.
MOTM: Iain Henderson
How the Ulstermen rated:
Iain Henderson – Bagged a man-of-the-match performance against Ireland’s first real test of the tournament. He was the standout performer who penetrated the Italian line with physicality, an intense work-rate and sheer determination. The Ulster lock managed 13 carries, nine hard-hitting tackles and two turnovers during his duty. Driving Edoardo Gori backwards with ball in hand has earned him comparisons to Ulster’s Stephen Ferris’ man-handling of Australia’s Will Genia at the 2011 World Cup. (9/10)
Rory Best – Solid at the line-out and carried effectively to help set the platform for Ireland’s attack. A consistent performer in the front row and the tournament so far, will expect more of the same this weekend. (7/10)
Tommy Bowe – Kept himself busy by chasing the high ball and looking for play in the midfield, during a game which lacked consistent and fast ball at times. (6/10)
Chris Henry – Contributed to securing good ball during the closing stages when coming on for Sean O’Brien in the 67th minute. A fresh pair of legs to keep the Italians at bay and provided intensity at the breakdown. (6/10)