Section: Italy

Six Nations: Italy 0-29 France

France ease past Italy in dire affair

France kept their slim Six Nations dreams alive with a 29-0 win at Italy on Sunday.

In an error-strewn, turgid, scrappy match Yoann Maestri’s try gave France the necessary breathing space to go through the motions for the rest of the second-half. And in the last play of the match substitute Mathieu Bastareaud ploughed over from close range to stretch the lead to 29 points.

Both teams were erratic from the tee, with Italy missing three shots at the posts, and Camille Lopez notched six points before being substituted at half-time with his replacement Jules Plisson knocking over 10 and Scott Spedding three.

France went into the game amid rumours coach Philippe Saint-Andre would lose his job should Les Bleus fail in Rome but despite making 19 errors – one more than Italy – they were in control throughout. It was the first time Italy had failed to score a point at home since they joined the Six Nations in 2000.

Italy suffered the late withdrawal of fly-half Kelly Haimona with a groin injury and Tommaso Allan, who started at No.10, looked to suffer an injury in a similar area pre-match. He lasted just 13 minutes and looked to aggravate the injury when attempting a kick at the posts and was hauled off for Luciano Orquera who fared little better from the tee. Italy also lost Matias Aguero and Luca Morisi to injury in the first-half.

France made eight changes for the match and debutant Noa Nakaitaci was the first to stretch his legs with a 60-metre dash only to be hauled down by Sergio Parisse who was making a record 112th appearance for the Azzuri.

The case of Nakaitaci rampaging down the wing was a rare sight in a first-half blighted by knock-ons and penalties. Italy had a pair of shots at the post but missed both while Lopez and Spedding got the scoreboard ticking over for the visitors as they went into the break nine points to the good.

Any hopes of the hosts finding some momentum in the second-half were quashed in the opening moments when the normally precise Parisse conceded a silly penalty. Plisson stroked it over and four minutes later they had the first try of the game thanks to a wonderful sweeping move which was started by the impressive Spedding.

He collected a loose kick in his own 22 and ran through the Italian defence to give France key field position. Debutant No.8 Loan Goujon took the ball on and it was eventually recycled to Maestri who crossed unopposed in the corner.

Italy had chances to get some points on the board but spurned opportunities for kicks at the posts for a shot at a driving lineout, a weapon they used so effectively against Scotland in the last round. But they were misfiring in the setpiece with Thierry Dusautoir keeping a stranglehold on the battle in the forwards. Italy’s frustration was compounded in the 74th minute when skipper Parisse limped off.

As the clock ticked past the 80th minute, France won a five-metre scrum and eventually the ball found substitute Bastareaud who crashed over under the posts to give Plisson the simplest of conversions.

The win for France gives them the slim chance of finishing this Six Nations as champions. They need a win against favourites England at Twickenham, alongside a Scotland win over Ireland and for Italy to beat Wales. They also need to make up the points difference with them lying currently 15 off England.

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Six Nations: Scotland 19-22 Italy

Scotland slipped to a third successive Six Nations defeat as they fell to a battling Italian side at Murrayfield.

Mark Bennett ran in his first international try for the Scots before Joshua Furno and Giovambattista Venditti replied for Italy.

Greig Laidlaw’s 14 points with the boot kept them in front until the final minute.

But Vern Cotter’s side were undone by a last-gasp penalty try, which was converted by Tommaso Allan.

The result leaves Scotland bottom of the Six Nations table as the only team without a victory to their name while Italy secure their first championship win since 2013.

Scotland’s performances in defeats by France and Wales had offered some signs of encouragement, but there will be no crumbs of comfort in losing to Italy, who celebrate a first win in Edinburgh since 2007.

With matches against title contenders England and Ireland to come, the Scots are staring at the very real prospect of a Six Nations whitewash.

They started the match in positive fashion. Captain Laidlaw kicked Scotland in front with barely a minute on the clock after an Italian infringement, and it was immediately obvious the Scots were aiming to play a more expansive game than in those opening two matches.

The Scots’ ambition was helped by some sloppy Italian play, fly-half Kelly Haimona’s wayward pass an open invitation for Mark Bennett to intercept and coast under the posts unchallenged.

The visitors were not about to crumble though. A driving maul from a line-out on the Scotland 22 carried the Italians over the try line, with lock Furno the man grounding.

Two Laidlaw penalties either side of Haimona’s three-pointer extended Scotland’s lead to 16-8, but they conceded just before half-time through a slice of bad fortune.

Haimona’s penalty attempt came back off the post and the ball bounced favourably to wing Venditti, who managed to force the ball down through a ruck of bodies to make it 16-15 at the break.

Allan, on for Haimona, spurned a good chance to put Italy in front for the first time on 54 minutes, sending a fairly straightforward penalty attempt wide of the posts.

For the second match running the home side had a try ruled out, though in this instance there was no controversy; Sean Lamont’s off-load to Stuart Hogg a blatant forward pass.

Laidlaw nudged Cotter’s men four points ahead with a routine penalty 13 minutes from time, but the Italians would not lie down.

They forced a succession of line-outs and scrums deep in Scottish territory, and with the home defence desperately trying to halt a rolling maul, referee George Clancy deemed they were doing so illegally and awarded a match-winning penalty try, which was converted by Allan to seal a desperately disappointing day for the Scots.

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Six Nations: England 47-17 Italy

Flying England turn on the jets against Italy

Jonathan Joseph scored twice to cement his reputation as England’s X-factor as Stuart Lancaster’s side routed Italy with a six-try performance.

It was Italy who struck first, Sergio Parisse barrelling over for a try in the fourth minute which silenced Twickenham. It was not until the 23rd minute that England took the lead, Billy Vunipola controversially being awarded a try after video review, despite no conclusive proof of a clear grounding being evident.

It seemed as though England had weathered the storm entirely when Jonathan Joseph burst clear for a scintillating try from halfway. However, Luca Morisi’s score at the start of the second half applied the pressure again, only for Ben Youngs to convert a quick-thinking tap penalty from close range.

Then England began to run riot. Joseph scored a second superb try from deep, while a Jonny May break was finished off by Danny Cipriani, who scored with his second touch after coming on as a substitute.

Nick Easter burrowed over from a rolling maul as the Italian defence crumbled completely. Italy did manage to score late on, with Morisi somehow scrambling down the line past May.

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Six Nations: Italy 3-26 Ireland

Defending Six Nations champions Ireland made a winning start to the 2015 campaign, but will need to improve drastically on their performance against Italy if they are to repeat last year’s success.

Ian Keatley landed three penalties from three attempts in a first half that saw both teams struggle to string any flowing play together. Only a Kelly Haimona penalty as time expired prevented Italy from being shutout in the first half on home turf.

However, the sin-binning of Leonardo Ghiraldini proved the catalyst for Ireland to finally make their overall superiority pay. First Conor Murray scurried over from a ruck for the first try of the match and then Tommy O’Donnell – a late replacement for Sean O’Brien who pulled a hamstring in the warm-up – burst free from 45 metres to pull Ireland clear once and for all.

Italy were denied a consolation try after the TMO ruled that Sergio Parisse had knocked on in the build-up to Kelly Haimona’s touchdown.

Keatley made his overdue Six Nations debut as Ireland took on Italy in Rome. The 27-year-old fly-half deputised for British and Irish Lions playmaker Johnny Sexton, who will return to face France in Dublin next weekend after a 12-week concussion lay-off.

Italy had back-row agitators Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni back in tandem, with New Zealand-born fly-half Kelly Haimona leading the line.

Flanker O’Brien pulled out of Ireland’s line-up in the warm-up just minutes before kick-off, nursing his hamstring. The luckless Leinster man’s injury problems rumble on: the 27-year-old has still not featured in Test action since November 2013. O’Brien had ice strapped to his left hamstring as he took to the bench to watch the match.

Italy proved the architects of their own discomfort right from the off, Matias Aguero penalised for slipping his bind at the scrum.

George Biagi’s cheap knock-on gifted Ireland field position, and a pointless midfield offside allowed Keatley to open the scoring from the tee.

Jack McGrath atoned for conceding a scrum penalty by winning a fine choke-tackle turnover, in tandem with Peter O’Mahony.

Munster fly-half Keatley endured a mixed opening quarter, slotting his penalty calmly, but throwing a loose pass and also being charged down by Michele Campagnaro.

Ireland threatened through careful build-up, only for Simon Zebo to knock on Conor Murray’s ambitious inside pass.

All the fizzing electricity from England’s tournament opening 21-16 win over Wales in Cardiff turned to dismal static in a humdrum first half in Rome.

Keatley doubled his and Ireland’s tally after Luke McLean wandered offside to retrieve Andrea Masi’s knock-on.

For all their possession however, Ireland lacked any spark. Joe Schmidt’s men fought hard for fluency, but settled instead for stoic territorial control.

Keatley had to scamper to retrieve a loose miss-pass from Murray, while Robbie Henshaw knocked on out wide.

Ireland drove close from a lineout maul, but Tommy Bowe could not tap Murray’s deft chip back inside with enough space for the scrum-half to wriggle home. The visitors had to settle instead for Keatley’s third penalty of the afternoon.

Italy then set up camp in Ireland’s 22 but after one driving maul Kelly Haimona opted to strike at goal. The New Zealand-born fly-half landed the goal to cut Italy’s deficit to six points at the break.

Ireland started the second half searching for some kind of fuel injection, but still their attack misfired.

Keatley produced a neat half-break on the blindside, only to force an attempted final pass. Campagnaro knocked on trying to intercept, allowing Ireland a quick wipe of the brow.

Keatley almost cut the line again in Italy’s 22, but Parisse produced a fine ruck steal to ease the pressure.

Jared Payne raced close after Simon Zebo’s neat wide pass, but Robbie Henshaw knocked on trying to sneak through.

Payne and Henshaw noticeably picked up the pace after the break, but again Ireland turned to Keatley’s boot to extend their lead to 12-3.

Ireland dispensed with posting penalties, instead going for the jugular just past the hour, punting to the corner for an attacking line-out.

Leonardo Ghiraldini spoiled Ireland’s maul from an offside position and was duly sin-binned for his troubles.

Ireland went straight for the lineout once more and finally broke the try deadlock. Murray wriggled home after the pack drove to the whitewash, with Keatley converting for a 19-3 lead.

No sooner had Ireland scored than boss Joe Schmidt brought off Keatley, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahoney, no doubt with one eye on next weekend’s France clash. Tommy O’Donnell then raced through Italy’s porous midfield to rubber-stamp Ireland’s victory.

Ian Madigan slotted the conversion to add gloss to the scoreline, but Ireland were unable to maintain that momentum once Italy were restored to full complement.

Italy’s rally forced Ireland to defend with zeal and composure at the death when Schmidt’s men would sooner have been attempting to boost their points-difference tally.

Andrea Manici’s sloppy spilled ball dented Italy’s momentum before Haimona had a try ruled out for the slightest of knock-ons from Parisse.

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Six Nations: Italy v Ireland

Sean O’Brien will start Ireland’s Six Nations opener in Rome just eight days after his first action in five months.

The combative British and Irish Lions flanker will play his first Test since November 2013 against Italy on Saturday, to offset the absence of Jamie Heaslip. The Leinster No.8 misses out through shoulder trouble, so O’Brien’s experience will ease the pressure on four-cap number eight Jordi Murphy – a Six Nations debutant.

Munster’s Ian Keatley has held off the challenge of Ian Madigan to start at fly-half, the 27-year-old taking his Six Nations bow in what will be his fourth cap.

Leinster flanker O’Brien featured in Ireland Wolfhounds’ 18-9 defeat to England Saxons in Cork on January 30, ending 14 months battling two shoulder reconstructions. Now he can reignite a Test career that has stalled since he first damaged his shoulder in Ireland’s 24-22 New Zealand defeat in the autumn of 2013.

Leinster’s hugely talented back-rower Murphy slots in for Heaslip, with Ireland keen not to risk one of their most experienced stars as he recovers from a shoulder niggle. Ulster’s Jared Payne partners Connacht battering ram Robbie Henshaw in the centres, with Ireland boss Joe Schmidt confirming the duo as his first-choice midfield pairing for the first time.

Payne and Henshaw worked in tandem in the autumn, but Gordon D’Arcy’s injury absence allowed Ireland to defer the decision on the long-term replacement for the now-retired Brian O’Driscoll.

Henshaw has long been pencilled in as record caps holder O’Driscoll’s successor, but could now ultimately end up replacing D’Arcy in Schmidt’s greater scheme.

New Zealand-born Payne has featured at full-back most regularly for Ulster this term, but will pick up where he left off from Ireland’s autumn at outside centre.

Veteran midfielder D’Arcy’s omission from the entire match squad indicates the size of the task facing the 34-year-old to force his way back into contention.

Stalwart front-rower Mike Ross starts at tighthead despite lagging behind Marty Moore in Leinster’s pecking order in recent weeks. The 35-year-old remains Ireland’s only ever-present selection under Kiwi boss Schmidt.

Ross fended off a month of groin trouble to feature in all three autumn Tests, and continues to remain one of Schmidt’s most trusted lieutenants.

Ireland:

R Kearney (Leinster), T Bowe, J Payne (both Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), S Zebo, I Keatley, C Murray (all Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross, D Toner (both Leinster), P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony (both Munster), S O’Brien, J Murphy (both Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), J Cronin (Munster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), T O’Donnell (Munster), I Boss, I Madigan (both Leinster), F Jones (Munster).
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