Ireland have set up a mouth watering quarter final against Wales next Saturday morning after they ruthlessly brushed aside Italy 36-6 to top Pool C in the Rugby World Cup.
Three second half tries, one from captain Brian O’Driscoll and two from birthday boy Keith Earls send Ireland on their way to a showdown with their Six Nations rivals.
In a tetchy first half it was the boot of Ronan O’Gara that pushed Ireland into the lead early on. The much talked about Italian scrum was nullified by some great play by Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
The Italians did suffer a huge blow coming up to half time, when the inspirational Castrogiovanni has to leave the fray with an injury. That tilted the scrum and indeed the game in Ireland’s favour and they went in 9-6 up at the break.
Within moments of the second half starting Ireland signaled their intent with another penalty from the boot of Ronan O’Gara. It would prove to be the start of a golden period for Ireland.
The opening try of the game came after a wonderful, sniping run from Tommy Bowe took him past the static Italian defence. His quick pass to Brian O’Driscoll put the captain away and over for the try.
Ireland sensed blood from that moment on and went after Italy like men possessed. The backrow of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip were collectively outstanding, with Ferris and O’Brien making some crunching hits and crucial yards in the tackle.
It was Ferris that played a huge role in Ireland’s second try when he made some huge yards initially and his quick off load put Keith Earls, who looked sharp all day, over for a try that buoyed Ireland and deflated the Italians.
With that comfortable buffer established Declan Kidney decided to withdraw the likes of O’Connell and O’Gara. It didn’t check Ireland’s momentum and Jonny Sexton slotted seamlessy into the fold as Ireland continued to hit Italy with everything they had.
Tommy Bowe, who should have scored a try in the opening quarter, should have been over minutes from the end after a superb 80 meter kick and chase but failed to ground the ball inches from the line.
Ireland did manage to wrap things up in the final minute when after some lovely play from sub Andrew Trimble put Earls away and his seering pace took him over for his second try of the game.
It put the cap on a wonderful performance and Ireland can now look forward to next weekend’s clash with Wales and a nation can begin to dream.