Six Nations 2021: Italy v Ireland

This game saw two teams desperate for a win face up against each other, but both teams have also had their moments of quality so far in this year’s tournament. Therefore, we were expecting this to be a game where both sides would have their moments, but Ireland, refreshed and having made a number of changes to their starting XV, looked more than that, taking control of the game and never really looking back. Italy, meanwhile, seemed to revert back to the way they played before this year’s tournament, making too many errors and generally looking second-best in all areas of the pitch.

For the home side, this was their best opportunity of making a statement in the Six Nations this year, given the poor form of Ireland shown so far. However, they always make too many errors to really get into the game, and the fact that they gave a penalty away straight after going three points up reflected how they throw away any leads they manage to have. They need to keep these when they do get them, as they don’t have many, and, as mentioned, this game was their only chance on form to win, even though it would have still been a massive shock if they had won it.

As far as the tactics went, both sides were happy to kick when necessary, looking to gain ground and test their opponents’ back lines, but this was particularly important for Italy, as they were struggling to break through the Irish defence by simply running forwards with the ball, so this gave them an alternative way of creating opportunities. However, when they did go through the phases, they played quick passes, which is something we know they can do in parts, and it was clearly their aim to get their ball-carriers charging into the spaces, hoping to create gaps in Ireland’s defence. This did win them penalties, and one led to fly-half Paolo Garbisi setting up flanker Johan Meyer to score in the closing stages of the first half, so this tactic worked for them in parts. In defence, it should be mentioned that centre Ignacio Brex was a really important player for them, leading every tackle attempt and always looking to close down the Irish attackers whenever he could. This is what gave Italy a little bit of hope going into half-time that they could compete when the teams re-emerged.

However, in the second half, Ireland started much better than Italy, and the home side didn’t seem to know how to deal with them at times. This lack of organisation is something we have associated with Italy for a long time, but it wasn’t that they weren’t trying to defend, just that Ireland kept finding spaces in between players, which allowed them to keep attacking. Italy also gave away too many penalties near the try line, which came from their desperation to stop Ireland scoring, but, overall, we could see that they were struggling to keep the visitors at bay. Quite simply, they seemed out of ideas, unlike in the first half, when they were able to implement themselves a bit more on the game. This was Italy back to their old selves, rather than the Italy of this year that has looked up for every game, so this is something they will need to work on physically, mentally and tactically before their next game.

As for Ireland, they had clearly been working hard in the break to improve a few things. They had a few interesting tactics, too, one of which was as at the lineout, where hooker Ronan Kelleher threw the ball over without any jumpers going up for it, and centre Robbie Henshaw caught the ball instead. By getting the ball to the quicker backs in these situations, Ireland were able to put pressure on the Italian defence as often and early as possible, and were very unfortunate not to score early on in the game, when the ball was clearly grounded, but referee Mathieu Raynal and TMO Romain Poite decided the player had lost control. However, Ireland knew that Italy would leave gaps, as we have already mentioned, so it was just a case of waiting and being patient, and then attacking with speed when they did appear. Centre Garry Ringrose, another of Ireland’s most threatening players, found one of these to score the opening try, and two others from full-back Hugo Keenan and flanker Will Connors also came from them finding gaps, so this was another tactic that worked for them.

Italy had more possesion in the first half, as mentioned, but Ireland were exceptional at the breakdown, with Connors in particular always getting to the ball and either winning the ball or the penalty, and Italy couldn’t deal with his presence throughout the game.

In the second half, Ireland continued to win penalties, but were not hanging around with them. Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, again starting in place of the injured Conor Murray, always looked to play a tap-and-go where he could, aiming to gain as much ground as possible for his team, as well as applying pressure on Italy’s defensive line. Another player who was really impressive in getting forward and creating problems for Italy was winger James Lowe, who provided a big threat and carried plenty of pace on the wing. He always offered himself as a passing option for his team, and, every time he got the ball, we felt something was going to happen. However, some of Ireland’s play was still untidy in areas, so they can still get better in the break ahead, but they will still be happy to have finally registered their first victory of the tournament.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

There were several Irish players who could have picked this up, with Will Connors having another excellent game at the breakdown, whilst Tadhg Beirne was outstanding as well, and James Lowe constantly provided a threat from the wing, as mentioned. However, Robbie Henshaw was at the front of everything for Ireland, attacking into spaces and getting on the end of the lineouts in Ireland’s tactic of speeding up the play there.

NEXT UP:

The Six Nations takes another break next weekend. The following weekend, Italy are at home again, hosting high-flying Wales at the Stadio Olimpico in the early Saturday kick-off, whilst Ireland travel to Edinburgh on Sunday to face Scotland at Murrayfield.

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