Irish count on their luck to scrape past spirited Azzurri
The result was never really in doubt given Ireland’s track record against Italy, the way this game actually panned out was never conceived to be possible however. If Italy have ever looked closed to bagging a result, this was the fixture for it. Ireland may consider it job done with a bonus point victory, but the fact that they were only three points clear with around 20 minutes to go will have given Ireland fans a stiff shiver of fear. Joe Schmidt said that being down at half time was perfect, and in my mind he couldn’t be any more right, because that scenario is not a common one for Ireland, and this was the reality check they needed in the run up to the final rounds of the tournament.
With two wins from two, Ireland sit in third place with two games to go, the ideal scenario being that Wales lose to Scotland, England lose to Italy, Wales beat Ireland, and Scotland beat England. I’d take that one to all the betting shops because I’m sure each and every one of them will agree that it’s one of the daftest bets going. That said, it is possible, highly unlikely but possible. They’ll need to sharpen their performance for their trip to Cardiff on St Patrick’s weekend, because playing like they did in Italy won’t get the job done, if anything it could make for a pretty rough weekend for a team who were tipped to win the World Cup a few months ago.
I say this every week, but Italy are getting better as the tournament goes on, and their famous victory over Ireland in 2013 was very nearly recreated. However, the old ritual of their faltering fitness kicked in and Ireland capitalised on their crucial bonus point. They got the job done and there’s no doubt, but it looked highly likely Italy were going to snatch that win they crave, and it’s not often in their 20 loss streak that they’ve led a team at half time. We all remember when they led England at Twickenham, but I desperately want to see Italy finally grab a win, because it would only provide a major boost to the competition. But as Ireland exhaust their regulars against a stubborn Italy who wouldn’t go quietly, it looks increasingly more likely that we’ll be seeing the title change hands this year; Schmidt needs a plan B, and quickly.