15. Rob Kearney – 6
Kearney was one of the few in green attempting to grab the game by the scruff of the neck on an immensely disappointing afternoon for Ireland in Rome. The stats suggest he was the stand out player in a back division that was never going to function with Marshall, Earls and Fitzgerald all injury casualties.
14. Craig Gilroy – 5.5
Recalled to the starting line-up after recovering from his groin niggle, Gilroy battled gamely and made more than one crucial hit as Ireland came under sustained pressure from the Italians. Unfortunately opportunities for the Ulsterman to show what he can do with ball in hand were few and far between.
13. Brian O’Driscoll – 4.5
If this was to be the great O’Driscoll’s final swansong in a green jersey then he will be massively disappointed to bow out with a defeat in his 125th appearance but he must not be immune from criticism. He faced an almost impossible task organising an unfamiliar backline, but his illegal use of the boot signalled his frustration at proceedings and the yellow card which followed couldn’t really have come at a worse time with Ireland having already lost Luke Marshall to injury.
12. Luke Marshall – 4
Marshall took another bang to the head and was withdrawn after only 27 minutes, but his introduction to the Irish side – Ireland have been crying out for a replacement for D’Arcy – can be considered one of the positives from a distinctly average campaign.
11. Keith Earls – 5
Earls was the first to be struck by a freakish sequence of injuries to Irish backs.
10. Paddy Jackson – 4.5
Another assured display kicking between the sticks, but Jackson struggled elsewhere. The young Ulsterman was guilty of taking the ball too deep, thus providing no threat in the fly-half role. More often than not it was O’Brien, O’Driscoll or Jamie Heaslip standing at first receiver.
9. Conor Murray – 5.5
After his outstanding performance last weekend Murray was expected to play a key role in Ireland’s game-plan in Rome, but his standards slipped and his execution with hands and the boot was slightly off. The Munster half-back saw yellow for deliberately hauling down an Italian support runner.
1. Cian Healy – 5
This was not a vintage Italian pack by any means but the Irish unit failed to exert any sustained pressure through their front-row. Healy again provided an outlet for Irish go forward ball, and tackled as hard as usual but altogether this was an average performance by his standards.
2. Rory Best – 3.5
Not for the first time in these championships the line-out fell to pieces, leaving Ireland with no platform in the set-piece. It goes without saying that a 55% success rate will cripple any game-plan at this level. Credit must be given to the Italian spoilers and contrary to popular belief it’s not always the hookers fault entirely when a line-out malfunctions. Best however had another off day with the darts and around the park too, missing three tackles.
3. Mike Ross – 4.5
Much the same as Healy, Ireland might have hoped that Ross could put the opposition under pressure at scrum time. That not being the case he cut a frustrating figure at times and was guilty of giving away a needless penalty.
4. Mike McCarthy – 5
Joint top of the tackle count (11), McCarthy carried more ball than his second row colleague but didn’t make too many inroads into the Italian defence. After a very promising beginning to his international career, the Leinster bound lock has had a reasonably quiet championship.
5. Donnacha Ryan – 4
Ryan must shoulder at least some of the blame for Ireland’s recurring struggle to win clean line-out ball – normally dominant as their primary receiver he had a few stolen from him as Italy put Best under considerable pressure. In addition, Ryan’s discipline left a lot to be desired, conceding three penalties and receiving a needless yellow card.
6. Peter O’Mahony – 5.5
It’s hard to be too critical of O’Mahony when he was forced to play the best part of the game on the wing as Ireland’s seemingly continuous injury woes worsened. Obviously completely lacking any recent or meaningful experience of being on the wing, it was nonetheless a commendable effort from the Munster star with one or two notable carries.
7. Sean O’Brien – 6.5
Consistently Ireland’s most effective ball carrier in these championships, yet again O’Brien stood out with 14 carries culminating in a gain of 52 metres. In a year during which only a few Irish have stood out in the race for the Lions, O’Brien is certainly nailed on for a place on the plane and has an opportunity to put up his hand for test selection.
8. Jamie Heaslip – 5
Heaslip has had a less than comfortable induction to the captaincy and now has the unfortunate tag of leading Ireland to their first ever Six Nations defeat against the Italians. There will be speculation over Heaslip continuing to lead the national side, particularly if there’s a change in the coaching setup and not least because his form appears to have suffered with the extra burden.
It would be particularly unfair to criticise the replacements such was the irregular nature of Ireland’s changes during the course of the game. Luke Fitzgerald was on the field a little over ten minutes after replacing Earls before he made way, and while Iain Henderson finally got an opportunity to showcase his ability it was hardly in the best of circumstances.
Ian Madigan was arguably the pick of those used off the bench, his quick feet causing Italy some difficulty when he attacked the line at pace. In contrast, the changed front-row highlighted the lack of depth Ireland currently have in that area as Stephen Archer, David Kilcoyne and Sean Cronin struggled against an average Italian unit.
By David Blair