Stylish Ireland give O’Driscoll a triumphant home farewell
Irish thump Italy 46-7, while last-gasp penalty hands France 19-17 away win to break Scottish hearts
Ireland turned on the style to give a teary-eyed Brian O’Driscoll the perfect farewell present in his last test on home soil with a thumping 46-7 Six Nations victory over Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
O’Driscoll, 35, was instrumental in Ireland’s first three tries – two of which were scored by his former Leinster team-mate Jonathan Sexton – as victory also saw him join former England prop Jason Leonard with the most Five/Six Nations wins of 44.
“A bit of a joke really to be man of the match after just 60 minutes,” grinned O’Driscoll, who also played the biggest matches for his province Leinster at Lansdowne.
The game was Ireland’s penultimate test of a Six Nations Championship which could see them seal the title with victory over France in Paris next Saturday as their points difference is far better than their rivals.
The 27-point victory gives Ireland a commanding +81 points difference at the top of the table, before France play Scotland later on Saturday and England host two-time defending champions Wales on Sunday.
“We need to go to France with big positivity and try and relive what happened in 2000 [when Ireland won in Paris for the first time in 28 years],” said O’Driscoll.
“It is one thing playing in this jersey, but it is another thing altogether winning in this jersey.”
O’Driscoll, who set a new world record for caps on Saturday moving on to 140, and his team-mates had the Italians on the back foot from the start.
Although the visitors briefly got on level terms in the first half, they were swept away and went down to a record 18th successive away defeat, in the process racking up a Six Nations record of 208 tackles.
O’Driscoll eventually left to a rousing standing ovation on the hour mark in stark contrast to the Italian record caps holder prop, Martin Castrogiovanni, who left the field seven minutes into his record 105th appearance with a rib injury.
Italy, who came to Dublin looking for a second victory over the hosts in as many years, suffered a huge blow before a ball was even kicked, with talismanic captain Sergio Parisse absent through injury, and four other back-row forwards unavailable.
A piece of O’Driscoll magic cut the visitors apart for the opening try seven minutes in, when his blind pop-pass fed fly-half Jonathan Sexton who strolled home for the opening score.
Almost out of nowhere, Italy levelled the game thanks to Leonardo Sarto’s second try of the tournament.
Andrew Trimble’s huge midfield tackle looked to result in a turnover for Ireland, but O’Driscoll’s miss-kick sent the ball flying into Sarto’s hands and from halfway he swatted away the Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, and sprinted to the try line.
With seconds remaining to the break, Trimble grabbed his 14th international try and again O’Driscoll was involved, with first a dummy, and then an overhand pass sending the Ulster winger away.
Cian Healy added a third try 15 minutes after the restart, forcing home from three yards out, as Italy began to fade in the face of the Irish onslaught.
Sexton grabbed a second, after more great work by O’Driscoll, and replacements Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath also went over with three late tries that ensure Ireland head to the final weekend with the possibility of giving O’Driscoll a title-winning send-off to his international career.
In the late Saturday game at Murrayfield, France kept their Six Nations titles hopes alive with a last gasp 19-17 win against Scotland.
The Scots were on the brink of winning their first test in eight matches against France when New Zealand referee Chris Pollock awarded a debatable penalty in front of the posts as the ball came out from a ruck.
Replacement Jean-Marc Doussain made sure of the kick and there was barely any time left for Scotland to mount a comeback.
Victory – France’s first away from home in the Six Nations since winning at Murrayfield two years ago – left Philippe Saint-Andre’s side in with a shout of a winner-takes-all title clash with Ireland in Paris next week.
“We take the win, I think,” Saint-Andre said afterwards as he acknowledged France’s good fortune.
“Fair play to Scotland, they play very well with a lot of spirit. They scored two good tries. Our discipline was good and at the end we managed to win but I can’t say it was our best game.
“But that is three wins in four and we’ll prepare for a big game against Ireland.”