Azzurri to provide stern test for Ireland
Roman holiday unlikely from improving Italy
Similarly, two more energy-sapping passages, the second originating in a 50m break by French scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud led to another McLean counter before Orquera put Martin Castrogiovanni over.
Defensively, Italy commit no more than one or two men to the breakdown, with the rest fanning out and pushing up hard. Hence they’ve shown an ability to defend comfortably through many phases. The system also tries to regularly hide Orquera, who is from the non-tackling school of outhalves, be it on either wing or at fullback, with Masi pushing up into the line and McLean covering at fullback at Twickenham on Sunday.
The point has been stressed by the RTÉ panel of Donal Lenihan, Shane Horgan and Conor O’Shea on Sunday that Ireland will need to go “up the guts” through the forward carriers rather than, as Sir Clive Woodward lamented of England, going too laterally, quickly, and try to off-load.
England showed, with patient if quick recycling, that through attacking closer
in, be it a winger eyeing up a prop and then off-loading, the Italian defence can be opened up, even if they did then butcher a couple of try-scoring opportunities in the first half. And as was shown in the Ireland-Scotland game, never give a sucker an even break.
Had England converted them, no less than Ireland in Murrayfield, they might have gone on and won well. Indeed, had a full-strength Ireland struggled to put Italy away at home on the weekend’s best conditions by 18-11, one wonders what kind of opprobrium would have been heaped upon Declan Kidney.
Ireland’s trek to Murrayfield generated the highest penalty count (29) of the dozen matches to date; when Scotland were wrongly yellow carded on one occasion but ought to have been on three other occasions.
The Scots have conceded more penalties (55) than anyone else, with Ireland (46) next followed by Italy (43), England and Wales (37 each) and France (30), and on Saturday again conceded 16 penalties. Ten of these afforded Leigh Halfpenny a kick at goal, yet somehow Craig Joubert didn’t think such repeated infringements merited a yellow card.
Although Ireland could have more quibbles than France over some of Steve Walsh’s decisions last Saturday, the penalty count (14) was the joint lowest along with the Italy-Wales game on opening weekend, when Nigel Owens was the referee. Alas, Barnes is in charge again next Saturday in the Stadio Olimpico, so another high count and perhaps yellow cards can be anticipated.
The refereeing, along with the mid-winter weather, has contributed to dampening the high expectations generated by the opening weekend, when 16 tries were scored, whereas there have only been 15 in entirety over the last three rounds. But at least the climax has been set up interestingly.