15. Rob Kearney: 7.5
Kearney’s stats reflect Ireland’s intent to run the ball at Italy rather than kick away possession, and with 135 metres from 17 carries including two clean breaks he was one of Ireland’s most prominent threats. Leonardo Sarto capitalised on Kearney’s missed tackle to draw Italy level in the first half.
14. Andrew Trimble: 8
His second try of the championship, well finished despite the attention of two Italian defenders, gave Ireland breathing space before half time and it was just reward after a busy start. He also ran a couple of handy support lines and is underrated at the ruck.
13. Brian O’Driscoll: 9
Saturday was all about the man wearing thirteen for Ireland, and how fitting that O’Driscoll should mark a record 140th test cap and his last home international with a sixty minute masterclass. His execution of the loop set play which set Sexton away was so subtle, and his improvisation gave Trimble the space to score. His half break and back door offload in the lead up to Sexton’s second was a fitting final contribution. We’ll never see his like again.
12. Gordon D’Arcy: 8
D’Arcy might have been in line for a rest weekend had Luke Marshall’s latest concussion induced absence not ruled him out, but he showed no signs of fatigue in a typically robust performance making good ground in close quarters and tight spaces.
11. Dave Kearney: 7.5
Dave Kearney did no harm to his reputation and remains a solid option on the wing for Ireland. He was helpless to stop the Italian try as Sarto stepped inside Kearney attempt to cover from the other wing.
10. Jonathan Sexton: 8.5
Brian O’Driscoll’s suggestion that Sexton might have been man of the match on another day isn’t far from the truth. A tally of 17 points including two tries capped a much improved display from Ireland’s influential playmaker.
9. Conor Murray: 6
Murray didn’t recover from the ill effects of a heavy contact early in the game which forced Joe Schmidt into a premature change. Eoin Reddan came on in the first quarter.
1. Cian Healy: 8
With Martin Castrogiovanni taken off with hurt ribs we were deprived an intriguing contest in the front row, and Healy was able to make an impact with 16 carries and a close range try. The shoulder pain he was experiencing will be a slight concern ahead of next week.
2. Rory Best: 7.5
Devin Toner provides a high percentage option in the lineout but Best has been accurate with a variety of calls in these championships, finding Henderson and O’Connell with consistently flat throws. The hooker was as reliable as ever, but a little quiet in the loose.
3. Mike Ross: 7.5
Joe Schmidt might have been tempted to start with Marty Moore, but was vindicated in his decision to stick with Ross, the Leinster tight head put in a rock solid performance. After Ross left the field the Irish set piece was notably less secure.
4. Devin Toner: 8
Another exemplary performance from Ireland’s find of the season, Toner is the epitome of consistency in the second row. Far from a one trick pony, with 18 carries, his disruptive qualities in the breakdown and lineout make him a huge asset to Ireland.
5. Paul O’Connell: 7.5
The Irish captain certainly won’t like how he was sold an audacious dummy by in-form Italian fullback Luke McLean but he was otherwise solid, if not spectacular, around the park and in the tight. Ireland resorted back to their effective maul in an effort to keep some structure to the game.
6. Iain Henderson: 7
The young Ulsterman had a reasonably quiet afternoon with few opportunities to stretch his legs. There’s plenty more to come from him. Defensively Henderson looked to use his impressive upper body strength in the choke tackle, an Irish tactic we’ve seen far less off in the Schmidt era.
7. Chris Henry: 7.5
One great jackal-like steal before half time summed up his contribution in this championship, and it’ll not surprise anyone that Henry topped the tackle count for Ireland with 12 with just one incomplete – it should be noted that Italy made 245 tackles altogether.
8. Jamie Heaslip: 7.5
Ireland’s link between the pack and backs division ran some attacking support lines when the game broke up. The no.8 was Ireland’s most prominent carrier in the pack, running 56 metres, though he’ll be disappointed that Michele Campagnaro managed to strip the ball from his grasp.
Murray’s loss wasn’t felt too badly as the game suited Eoin Reddan’s preference for a quick tempo. The Leinster veteran almost made a try for himself with a blindside dart. Fergus McFadden, on for O’Driscoll, cut through the Italian line to grab one of Ireland’s potentially significant late tries. Jack McGrath drove over for the other.
Much has been made of Sean Cronin’s pace which he used to effect in an action packed half hour, the highlight being his score in the left corner. Rhys Ruddock made a useful contribution in the back-row and Paddy Jackson, given 17 minutes, found a great touch which provided the platform for McGrath’s late score. Martin Moore was unusually quiet and Jordi Murphy didn’t have enough to time to make much impact.
By David Blair (@viscount_dave)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images