Six Nations: Brian O'Driscoll farewell goes to plan as Ireland crush Italy
Last Updated: 08/03/14 5:07pm
Brian O'Driscoll: An emotional send-off from his home crowd
Brian O'Driscoll enjoyed a winning farewell in front of his adoring Dublin crowd as Ireland beat Italy 46-7 in round four of the Six Nations.
O'Driscoll played a starring role in his record-breaking 140th international appearance, his clever passes setting up Ireland's first-half tries for Jonathan Sexton and Andrew Trimble.
Italy were on the defensive almost throughout, but did manage a breakaway score from Leonardo Sarto midway through the first half.
Ireland pulled clear with second half tries from Cian Healy and Sexton before O'Driscoll was replaced after an hour to a standing ovation.
Late tries from Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath - two of them converted by Paddy Jackson - significantly boosted Ireland's points difference to keep them very much in the hunt for the Six Nations title.
Ireland were on the front foot from the off and spent 20 phases huffing and puffing around the fringes, before O'Driscoll's shallow run to the gain-line and his blind pass invited Sexton into the run-around, and the fly-half ghosted through the gap and under the posts.
Italy were neither overawed nor overwhelmed though, immediately forcing themselves onto the front foot as if to prove their very purpose.
A huge chunk of fortune, a slice off O'Driscoll's boot in fact, gifted the visitors equal terms, however.
Trimble's thunderous midfield tackle dislodged the ball, O'Driscoll tried to boot in behind the defence, only to flick possession straight to Sarto.
Italy's left wing raced down his flank, wrong-footing first Rob then Dave Kearney, and cantered under the posts. Orquera's conversion levelled the scores.
Schmidt's men kept their cool, though, and further pressure eventually told when Sexton slotted a penalty to reclaim the lead.
Eoin Reddan, on in place of the unwell Conor Murray, scampered close to Italy's whitewash with a sharp scrum-base break.
Ireland's control was not restored until Ulster wing Trimble jinked over in the left corner, just ahead of half-time, however.
Again it was master schemer O'Driscoll with the telling act.
The 15-year international rugby veteran exploited centre partner Gordon D'Arcy receiving treatment on the field to perfect reward.
Cutting blind from static play in the Italy 22, O'Driscoll dodged D'Arcy, physio and referee Nigel Owens before finding Trimble in the half-yard required for Ireland's second try.
Italy scrum-half Tito Tebaldi was penalised for throttling Ireland captain Paul O'Connell off the ball after the restart.
Sexton rejected a shot at goal to punt the penalty to the corner for an attacking line-out.
Ireland set the maul from the line-out, only for Italy to blunt the drive and clear to touch.
The Irish pack came again from another well-worked maul, though.
Reddan sniped close to the line and bullocking prop Healy drove home for Ireland's third try.
Sexton then grabbed his second and Ireland's fourth try, taking the scoring pass from Dave Kearney after O'Driscoll's crucial pass over the top of the defence.
O'Driscoll then left the field to complete rapture as the Aviva Stadium rose as one to proclaim the Dublin departure of their favourite son.
Jackson replaced Sexton and evergreen centre D'Arcy stepped deep into the Italy 22, Chris Henry ploughed on, only to lose the ball - but Ireland quickly pilfered possession back.
Reddan whipped the ball blind at pace, and hooker Cronin bundled over for his first international score.
McFadden then bisected the defence for Ireland's sixth score, as the hosts cranked up their vital points-difference dominance in the Six Nations table standings.
Replacement prop McGrath bolstered those figures further, with the seventh and final try on the stroke of full-time.
Victory in Paris next weekend will surely now be enough for Ireland to give O'Driscoll the ultimate awayday send-off as well.
Six Nations 2014: Ireland v Italy
Joe Schmidt praised Brian O'Driscoll, who produced another excellent performance in his final international in Dublin.
Italy head coach Jacques Brunel has tipped Ireland to win the Six Nations championship in Paris next weekend.
A teary-eyed Brian O'Driscoll handed Ireland a perfect farewell present with a crushing 46-7 Six Nations win over Italy.
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