Irish get confidence-boosting win ahead of return to Paris

Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy gets past Tobias Botes of Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

IRELAND will go into Sunday’s refixed Six Nations Championship match against France in much better shape following last Saturday’s comfortable 42-10 success over Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

Not that anyone is getting carried away. For one thing, Wales secured the Triple Crown with an exciting win over England at Twickenham. And everyone knows that taking on France in Paris will bear no comparision to a home match against against the worst team in the Six Nations series.

But they also know that the victory over the Italians was badly needed by the Irish side. Had the game against France gone ahead as scheduled a number of weeks back, the danger was that the Irish side would have been badly short of confidence.

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Now at least they have a victory under their belts. And while they are going to have to improve quite a bit more to have any chance against the French, there were some encouraging signs in the second half.

Coach Declan Kidney summed it, stating: “I like to think we got a lot more right than we got wrong. But we won’t be getting carried away, there’s definitely work to be done.”

Just before half-time, there was a lot of work to be done. Italy had just gone level at 10-10 with a converted try from their skipper Sergio Parisse and the 51,000 crowd was in danger of becoming seriously disgruntled.

But Ireland remained calm, their captain Paul O’Connell elected for Jonathan Sexton to kick a penalty into the corner. For the second time in the match, they then went patiently through the phases before Tommy Bowe crossed in the right corner.

Sexton converted from the touchline to leave Ireland 17-10 in front. From then on, Ireland grew in confidence to add three more tries and eventually pull well clear.

Overall, it was definitely an improvement from the Welsh game, although the point can be made that the opposition wasn’t nearly as good. For my money, a lot of the credit has to go to Irish skipper Paul O’Connell.

In some ways, the selection of Sexton as Man-of-the-match was understandable. He had a top class game at out-half, landing his first seven goalkicks, including two from the touchline.

O’Connell and in-form full-back Rob Kearney also had claims. But I would definitely have given the award to O’Connell on the basis the he led from the front in a playing sense and also made all the right decisions as captain.

Kearney is playing the best attacking rugby of his career. Gordon D’Arcy also showed a welcome return to form in the centre, while Stephne Ferris was comfortably the pick of the back-row.

Nor can anyone complain about the wings Bowe and Andrew Trimble who got three tries between them. Bowe’s two scores brought his tally to three for the championship.

But there were some Irish players who came under a lot of criticism with scrum-half Conor Murray taking a lot of stick. For the most part he was indecisive and there was an undoubted improvement when Eoin Reddan came on 14 minutes into the second half.

As usual, Kidney defended his player, stating that he felt that Murray did some things very well in the first half. He added that the increased pace of the game made things easier for Reddan when he came on.

The truth is that Murray just had an off day. Overall though the 22-year-old has done pretty well since his introduction and, importantly, he has the type of physicality that will be needed in Paris.

Another area Ireland will be looking to improve is the scrum, purely on the basis that the French are so strong in this area. Hopefully too Kidney can find a way of providing more space for Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip to make an greater impression in the back-row.

Lastly, the Irish coach is acutely aware that Ireland need to get a good start in Paris.

“Yeah, it’s a major concern.” Kidney admits. “Against Wales it put us under pressure and today it put us under pressure.

“Obviously, if we do the same in Paris we will be in trouble. But at least we learned today and we must take that on for the French game.”

Italy must have felt they were in with a real chance of an upset for most of the first half. Ireland overcame an early 3-0 deficit to move 10-3 ahead with a try from Keith Earls and a conversion and a penalty from Sexton but they were never really convincing.

When the visitors hard work was rewarded with Parisse’s try, converted by Tobias Botes, to level matters at 10-10, no one could have complained. But Ireland almost immediatedly lifted their game with Bowe’s first try converted by Sexton, to give them their 17-10 interval advantage.

Helped by some pretty appalling goalkicking by Botes, Ireland kept Italy scoreless in the second half. What’s more, they ran in three more tries though Bowe, substitute Tom Court and Trimble.

With Sexton adding two conversions and two more penalties, the final scoreline was somewhat flattering. Still, it was, without question, a much improved second half effort.

France, meanwhile, weren’t quite at their best when recording a hard-earned 23-17 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. But the one thing Ireland can be sure of is that they are going to be a much tougher proposition in front of their own at the Stade de France.

Under 20s, Women’s side win

IT was generally a very good weekend for Irish rugby with the Under 20’s team and Women’s sides also recording victories over Italy.

The Under 20’s remain on course for the Grand Slam after beating Italy 27-8 in Dubarry Park, while the Women had even more to spare, winning 40-10 at Ashbourme

Munster, Ulster and Connacht all had home wins in the RaboDirect Pro12 League, with leaders Leinster drawing away. Munster beat Cardiff 16-13, Ulster overcame the Ospreys 15-14, Connacht defeated Edinburgh 26-13, and Leinster drew 10-10 in Glasgow.

Cats have measure of Tipp

TIPPERARY found out just how difficult life may be without Lar Corbett when they were beaten by 2-17 to 0-15 by Kilkenny in the opening round of the National League at Nowlan Park on Sunday.

Corbett’s decision to retire has come as a major shock to everyone in hurling, let alone to the Tipperary fans. So, there was great interest in seeing how they were going to manage without him against the reigning All-Ireland Champions.

The answer was that Tipp were soundly beaten. They were never really in with a chance of avenging last September’s All-Ireland defeat and Kilkenny’s winning margin of eight points could easily have been greater.

At least Tipperary boss Declan Ryan was very honest, commenting: “I’m very disappointed with the performance overall. It looks like Kilkenny are a couple of steps ahead of us and two or three years ahead of us overall.”

That said, Kilkenny were good. As usual, Brian Cody fielded a strong team in the belief that it’s important to get into your stride early in the season.

Importantly, even without Henry Shefflin, they always seem to be accurate off placed balls. Richie Power contributed 1-11 in that area, including an early penalty which set the tone for the game.

By that stage, Kilkenny were 1-5 to 0-1 in front. It was just as well that Pa Bourke was in excellent from with the placed ball for Tipp, landing five frees, while Noel McGrath, with three points from play, also did well.

But generally the visitors were chasing the game. They had the excuse that they only included eight of last year’s All-Ireland final line-up but really their supporters must have hoped for better.

Eoin Larkin added Kilkenny’s second goal as they coasted to victory. Manager Cody was satisfied, stating: “You have to target as many wins as you can and try to get to the knock-out stges. This was a decent performance and a good win.

The league champions Dublin, meanwhile, found lifeconsiderably more difficult as they went down to a 0-20 to 0-13 defeat to Galway at Pearse Stadium. They came up against a young Galway team which showed considerable potential.

Of course, no one is saying too much, given Galway’s disappointments in recent times. But there’s no doubt that new manager Anthony Cunningham has made a good start.

Significantly, he included eight of last year’s Under 21 panel in his side. They were all good, but none perhaps better than Niall Burke at centre-forward.

Everything he did had the sign of a really outstanding young player. In all, he contributed half of Galway’s total, with 10 points, five of them coming from placed balls.

Cunningham was suitably impressed. He said: “It was a fantastic performance from Niall. He is a great prospect but to get to the top will take time and effort.”

Paul Ryan, with six points from placed balls was Dublin’s main contributor. Their manager Anathony Daly made no excuses, commenting: “The Galway boys wanted the 50/50 balls more than we did. Why that was, I don’t know.”

The last of the Division 1A games saw Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s second stint as Cork manager start with a 3-17 to 0-18 victory over Waterford at Paric Ui Rinn. A very decent crowd of 7,356 was on hand to see the action.

They were well rewarded with some of Barry-Murphy’s younger selections showing up well. UCC first year student Conor Lehane had a major impact scoring sevent point from play to be named man-of-the match.

“It wouldn’t have taken a genius to pick Lehane out because everyone in Cork knows he is a major talent.” stressed Barry-Murphy. “I thought he was excellent, not only in scoring but in his overall contribution.”

Clare, Antrim and Offaly all started with wins in Division 1B. It was an impresive start for new manager Davy Fitzgerald as Clare trounced Limerick by 2-24 to 1-13 at the Gaelic Grounds.

After 20 minutes, Limerick must have felt they were in with a great shout of victory when 1-6 to 0-4 in front. But Clare then took complete control to overrun their neighbours.

Conor McGrath finished with 1-10, while John Conlon also caught the eye with four points. Unsurprisingly, Davy Fitzgerald warned that too much should not be read into the result.

He said: “This is only the first round of the league and we musn’t get carried away. We still have things to work on.”

Antrim got the better of Wexford in an entertaining game by 3-18 to 2-15 at Casement Park with Shane McNaughton contributing 1-7, while Offaly recorded a comfortable 1-27 to 0-18 success over Laois at O’Connor Park. The key moment in that game was the sending off of Laois centre-half-forward Michael McEvoy for a second yellow card in the 21st minute.

Ulster deserve football title

ULSTER and Munster provided the

Interprovincial Football Championship with a much neeeded boost when they fought out an entertaining final at the Morgan Athletic Ground in Armagh.

At the finish, Ulster were deserving 3-11 to 1-15 winners. It was a close contest throughout with the difference being the ability of Ulster to come up with goals at vital times.

Peter Harte’s 60th minute effort was a turning point. Munster, however, had the man-of-the-match in David Tubridy (0-8).

Another significant game on the football front saw DCU trounce NUI Maynooth 2-17 to 0-7 in the Sigerson Cup final at Pearse Stadium.