Ireland must beware Parisse and Co in last Six Nations Championship match, especially in the final 10 minutes

It will take a monumental performance from Ireland to stop Italy in Rome


Energy is the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. As the clock ticked past 70 minutes in Twickenham, England led Italy 18-11. up to that point Italy were forced to out-tackle England by 98 tackles to 83. Fifteen doesn’t appear a large margin but you tackle Manusamoa Tuilagi and co 15 times!

However, in the closing 10 minutes, down seven points having suffered a sin binning and some tough referee decisions the Italians improved remarkably in their spatial awareness and gain line play. Italy’s play with ball in hand swung the stats completely; where they had been making the tackles now it was England’s turn.

By the 76th minute England’s tackles had jumped to 107. By the final whistle their tackle count had ballooned to 134 to Italy’s 105 and in powering over the finish line Italy asked many questions of England which they struggled to answer as they missed 6 of the 14 made in this period.

Though at home, unbeaten England made 51 tackles in those closing minutes to Italy’s 7: worrying times for Ireland tomorrow. The great unknown in tomorrow’s fixture is energy levels. I’m sure there is a machine that measures energy levels and I’d be fascinated to read Mike Ross’s results.

Last Saturday he played 80 minutes against the French, who rotated their frontrow. He was totally spent and almost incapable of standing. His recovery could take months. He, of course, is an extreme example but the walking wounded declared fit are in for a massive test tomorrow; Irish energy levels against Italian ability. Bar a few missing links the Italians are very good in general play, most notably with ball in hand.

Lazy assumption
The lazy assumption is Italy will test Ireland in the set-piece but against Wales the Italians were smashed up front and at times in Twickenham were battered in the scrum. On the first English scrum put-in England went for the old-fashioned massive eight-man drive with no strike from the hooker; they got the mental fillip in earning a penalty within two minutes.

Italy, through Martin Castrogiovanni, were forced up and subsequently backwards. After a few more horrors he was gone by 28 minutes. Outside the set-piece, I’ve enjoyed Italy’s spatial awareness, lines of running and general movement, whether around the front of a lineout or scrum, with the deftest of offloads from Sergio Parisse. Although their game hinges on his every movement they have many fine players.

However, like Frederic Michalak, Italy outhalf Luciano Orquera’s role could prove advantageous to Ireland. Dropped after the Scotland game and back in against England, he kicks off long and left, with Parisse hanging back; please avoid Parisse when box-kicking. Interestingly, Orquera rarely receives the ball.

Yes, England had the lion’s share but nearly every Italian stood up as first receiver, bar Orquera, who was happy to watch. It wasn’t till 26:57 that Orquera received his second pass from his scrumhalf. That’s a long time away from the tiller, where so much happens around the Italian 10 channel.

He often stays away, allowing his backrow and props to truck it up, building multiphase. In essence they are happy to play without a 10. When they go wider, especially off first phase, it looks awkward and deep.

It appears the Italian scrumhalf will hit anyone but Orquera, who he found just three times in the first half. To be fair to Orquera, on just his sixth receipt he cross-kicked to Luke McLean on the left wing for a cracking try, which is not a bad return from six touches! But, by 54 minutes the score was 15-11 to England, with Orquera missing five points! Hence, it’s no bad thing Paddy Jackson gets another start to further develop.

First receiver
Defensively, fullback Andrea Masi stands at 10, with Orquera floating wide and McLean stepping into first receiver on turnovers. Orquera’s defence should be tested but all the more if he is out of position. Their line speed in defence, however, is very impressive and Ireland will have to employ several tactics as they ride the first 20 minutes.

I’d love to see a very direct game in opening with Seán O’Brien much wider taking the ball hard off a very flat pass right on the gain line. This is a much harder tackle than from a standing start, running at the fringe Italian props, who fly up on both sides of the ruck in defence, clocking up multiple tackles. This is great but a scrumhalf like Paul Marshall could flip this on its head, getting around the corner quickly.

Italy have a very high completion rate at lineout time but rarely hit the tail and will go short and maul throughout. Consequently their lineout isn’t necessarily a source of possession to launch the back line, such is the brilliance of their short man lineout maul or the majestic front peels, with Parisse’s symbiotic interplaying with Alessandro Zanni.

Not unlike their back three, where Giovanbattista Venditti on the right wing may be a tad slow to turn but has a really strong left-arm hand-off. Conscious of computer games that display energy levels with Ireland close to empty, I marvel at Parisse, a thing of beauty, poise and leadership and a competitor who simply never stops. Hence it will take a monumental performance from Ireland to stop Italy in the last 10 minutes.
PS: Is it the end of the Ireland road for our most capped (94) second row Donncha O’Callaghan; phenomenal performance?

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