Ireland emerged victorious from their Six Nations clash with Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, triumphing 46-7.
The Italian squad put forth a valiant effort, but, in a match that was thoroughly dominated by the Irish team, the result was never in doubt. Two tries from Jonathan Sexton were too much to overcome for the Italians, who remain the only winless squad in the tournament.
Sexton's first try came after six minutes, giving Ireland their first lead of the match. Playing without Sergio Parisse, Italy refused to go down without a fight, with Leonardo Sarto scoring the try that put his team on the board.
Indeed, the Italian performance was inspiring. With Ireland dominating possession, the Azzurri were forced into difficult defensive positions for the majority for the match. And while the team eventually tired and cracked, as evidenced by the huge scoreline, the sheer amount of tackles made by the Italians was inspiring to watch.
But there's a reason Ireland lead the Six Nations table, and the team's dominance was on full display during the second half, with the Italians hardly able to battle their way into attacking positions. Playing in his final match for the Irish side on home soil, as reported by the Telegraph, Brian O'Driscoll was given the perfect send-off by his teammates.
O'Driscoll coming off to a raptuous reception. That's the last time he will play international rugby on Irish soil http://t.co/bvWAT7r4Ns— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) March 8, 2014
Cian Healy, Andrew Trimble, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath all got on the board with tries for Ireland as the Italians were unable to cope with the relentless pressure. As this fan points out, the fact the Italians were able to keep it close for much of the first half was surprising in itself:
Sexton was no doubt the team's most impressive performer, with two tries and two conversions. But this game was all about O'Driscoll, who played an excellent final match and would have won the Man of the Match award regardless of his output.
The Italian squad will go back to Rome heavily disappointed, setting a Six Nations record by recording 208 tackles yet losing by such a large margin to a dominant Ireland squad, as reported by IRB Total Rugby:
Italy made 208 tackles against Ireland… a record for the Six Nations!— IRB Total Rugby (@IRBTotalRugby) March 8, 2014
This particular fan gave the Italians all the respect they deserved for their gritty performance:
Ireland 46-7 Italy. The score doesn't really show justice to how well the Italians played. 208 tackles by Italy - a new record.— Colin English (@ColinEnglish) March 8, 2014
The win puts Ireland in the driver's seat for a Six Nations win, as the large margin of victory all but guarantees none of the other contenders will be able to catch the Irish squad on point differential.
But the Irish team will still need to beat a resilient French squad in Paris in the last round of fixtures, and, while the hosts have disappointed so far this tournament, a trip to the Stade de France is never an easy task.