ROME (Reuters) - Italy defeated Ireland 22-15 on Saturday to record their first win over the Irish in the Six Nations championship and finish the tournament with two wins for only the second time.
Wing Giovanbattista Venditti’s 49th minute try, 14 points from flyhalf Luciano Orqeura and a penalty from centre Gonzalo Garcia were enough to stop a lacklustre Ireland side, who had to rely on the boot of flyhalf Paddy Jackson for all their points.
They were also penalised for their indiscipline by losing Brian O‘Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray to the sin bin.
Italy’s victory was their first in 18 attempts against Ireland and their first ever against their opponents in the Six Nations.
It was also a fitting way to end both an encouraging tournament and Andrea Lo Cicero’s international career.
The 36-year-old loosehead prop announced his retirement from the national side on Friday and, after a powerful display, the Italian record holder for international caps was given a rousing sendoff by a packed Stadio Olimpico.
“He is a player of particular strength,” said Italy manager Jacques Brunel. “He has been a great player over 12 years and over 100 caps, and being in his condition at his age is fantastic.”
Italy, who upset France in the opening round, finished ahead of Ireland in the standings after the Irish could manage only a draw and three defeats after beating last year’s grand slam champions Wales on the first Saturday of the championship.
“We’ve won against two countries who have a much longer history of the game than us. It’s a good sign,” said Italy captain Sergio Parisse, who was also sin-binned in the second half for tripping Ian Madigan.
Italy dominated in the feisty opening exchanges, but could only count on two Orquera penalties to cancel out the fifth minute opener from Jackson.
Brunel’s side broke through Ireland’s defence with an ease they had not experienced in the rest of the tournament, but the handling errors that have dogged their play cropped up again and again in attacking positions, letting Ireland off the hook.
O‘Driscoll, playing what is likely to be his last Six Nations match, summed up Ireland’s frustration when he was sin-binned in the 29th minute for stamping on Simone Favaro’s stomach during a ruck.
Italy failed to capitalise on their advantage, though, again rushing their passing in their opponents’ 22.
“In the first half he wasted lots of chances to score tries. Maybe we were a bit rushed or hot-headed, and that ended with bad choices and individual errors,” added Parisse.
Garcia temporarily took over kicking duties from Orquera to send a beautiful long-distance penalty over the posts on 35 minutes for what looked like a 9-3 half-time lead.
However, after another aggressive period of play, Ireland were awarded a penalty when replays showed that Rob Kearney had slapped Gonzalo Canale.
Jackson silenced the baying fans inside the Stadio Olimpico, who were livid at Kearney, to make it 9-6 at the break.
Italy started the second half on the front foot and pushed Ireland’s rocking defence back to their own try line.
They finally got the reward their domination deserved on 49 minutes when. after a long consultation with the third match official, Wayne Barnes decided that Venditti had forced the ball over the line and after Orquera’s superb conversion Italy had a 16-6 lead.
Two penalties from Jackson in the 52nd and 56th minutes closed the gap to four points and, with Italy captain Sergio Parisse sin-binned for tripping Ian Madigan, Ireland drove forward in search of try that would give them the lead.
However, despite their advantage, they had to settle for Jackson’s fifth penalty of the match on 63 minutes to make it 16-15.
Orquera hit another superb penalty six minutes later to make it 19-15 and, with the partisan home crowd roaring them on, they forced another penalty in the last minute.
The flyhalf sealed the victory with an easy kick between the posts to give the home side an historic win.
Editing by John Mehaffey