/ 25 August 2007

Ireland edge Italy in controversial finish

Ireland struggled to a 23-20 World Cup warm-up win over Italy on Friday in a match that was crowned by two controversial tries in the dying minutes.

Ireland, who had trailed 13-10 at the interval despite fielding a near full-strength side, had led 16-13 with three minutes left before Italy scored a try through Matteo Pratichetti, which they thought had won the game.

But in the last minute, Ronan O’Gara, who finished with 18 of his team’s points, went over for Ireland’s second try of the night.

It needed a lengthy video referral before the score was awarded despite the impression that O’Gara did not ground the ball properly.

Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan, whose side will face France and Argentina in their World Cup pool, admitted his men did not hit top gear.

”I’m disappointed to say the least,” said O’Sullivan, who was without injured skipper Brian O’Driscoll.

”In the second half we needed to ratchet it up and we didn’t do it.

We didn’t create the platform at the breakdown in order to run at the Italians.

”It just didn’t happen for us. The one good thing was that we came back after they scored their late try. Not many sides could do that.”

It was the first time Ireland had played at Belfast’s Ravenhill venue since 1954 and they marked the occasion with O’Gara giving them the lead with a third-minute penalty.

But a drop goal from David Bortolussi brought the improving Italians level in the 22nd minute.

Italy number eight Sergio Parisse was fortunate not to be sin-binned when he delivered a brutal punch to the back of the head of scrumhalf Peter Stringer, an action which prompted a ugly fracas in the centre of the pitch.

Ireland then went in front in the 27th minute when Bortolussi made a hash of catching a testing up-and-under from O’Gara and allowed centre Andrew Trimble, who had already had a try disallowed for a knock-on, to nip in to score.

O’Gara then added the extra points to give Ireland a 10-3 lead.

Bortolussi then clawed three points back with a penalty before Italy seized the lead just before the interval.

A flowing move between Gonzalo Canale, Bortolussi and Pratichetti stretched the Irish and from the ensuing maul, scrumhalf Alessandro Troncon took a quick tap-penalty and sprinted over the line.

Bortolussi added the conversion to make the interval score 13-10 to Italy.

O’Gara then levelled the score seven minutes into the second half when the visitors were punished for slowing the game down at the maul.

Ireland continued to press but Italy defended doggedly to keep the home side out.

However, the Irish nipped ahead with nine minutes left when O’Gara struck a sweet drop goal.

Italy then scored their controversial try three minutes from time to a chorus from the crowd who believed that Geordan Murphy had been impeded by Kaine Robertson as he chased the ball down, but referee Nigel Owens allowed Pratichetti’s try.

The crowd’s stunned disbelief soon turned to joy, however, with O’Gara’s dramatic reply. — Sapa-AFP