Ireland 16 – 9 Italy
I watched this one surrounded by noisy, passionate and very very nervous Irish fans.
And plenty of reason to be nervous because Ireland played with a lack of confidence.
A big part of that goes to Italy for finally turning up to play. Apart from lineout wobbles in the first half, they competed across the field and often with intelligence. Just on occasion they found a few gaps out wide, even if they couldn’t exploit them to the line. Their best chance of a try ended up with the ball in the hands of a hulking lock down the left wing: but the ball in the wrong hand, and the body position wrong, and forced into touch. These last little finishing touches are Italy’s undoing.
Ireland kept themselves just out of trouble with a couple of Sexton penalties in the second half, but they made hard nervous work of it. Too many balls turned inside for the crash, high kicks for chase and hope, very few offloads, crabbing across field. And when they went down to 14 men for the last seven minutes (at least this ref could see a shoulder charge at the head of a man in a maul), the Guinness pressure went ballistic.
I nearly wrote “a strange lack of confidence” in the opening, but that is perhaps the point. World Cups are about handling pressure. And Ireland did not pass that test this morning. Perhaps they will be better for it as they progress: just the sort of test you want in the Pools.
Or perhaps it will be the chink in the armour that other teams prod and batter and prise.