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The O’Driscoll Show leads Ireland over Italy 46-7

March 8, 2014

DUBLIN (AP) — Brian O’Driscoll put on a show to remember in his last home test by spearheading Ireland to a 46-7 win over Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday and setting up their Six Nations closer in Paris next week as the title decider.

While history counts against Ireland in Paris, where they haven’t won since 2000, O’Driscoll said they have the momentum and ability to win their second Six Nations in 29 years at the expense of France.

Ireland leads the standings with a points differential of plus 81, while next-best England, hosting Wales on Sunday, was at plus 21.

“We go to France with huge positivity,” he said. “We’re capable of doing great things and we have to start next week by trying to win a second championship with this unit of players.”

O’Driscoll’s final bow at home in an illustrious 15-year international career was his 140th test, making him world rugby’s most capped player. He played for only 62 minutes, walking off to a standing ovation, but had a hand in three of Ireland’s four tries by then.

After he left, Ireland poured in three more tries as Italy tired in having to make more than 200 tackles.

Bemused by all the attention and embarrassed to be named man of the match, he addressed the packed crowd and the meaning of the day finally got to him.

“I feel really humbled by the reaction today,” he said, misty-eyed. “It seems a bit of a joke to get man of the match for 60 minutes.

“I’ve loved my time playing in this jersey and unfortunately it does have to come to an end, and I’m glad I’ve got to go out at home with a big win.”

It was a tribute to O’Driscoll that he produced his best game of the championship in an emotionally charged atmosphere that ramped up when he led the team out.

For the hour he spent in the game, he was in the middle of all the main moments.

His no-look flick over his left shoulder sent flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, on the loop around, scampering past the bewitched defence and to the try-line just six minutes in.

Coach Joe Schmidt called O’Driscoll a magician. The man himself said, “I take as much satisfaction in setting up tries as scoring them, I have to these days, I don’t tend to get too many myself anymore.”

The tackling on both sides took a quick toll: Tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni, extending his Italy caps record to 105, walked off with broken ribs, then Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray with nausea.

Italy contributed to the occasion with backplay that was genuinely threatening. When Ireland accidentally conceded possession on halfway, Italy’s attack appeared to die when the ball was jolted by Ireland wing Andrew Trimble. But O’Driscoll booted the ball straight to Italy wing Leonardo Sarto, who blasted off. Sarto ran through fullback Rob Kearney and inside his winger brother Dave for the first try Ireland has conceded at home in the championship.

After replacement scrumhalf Eoin Reddan almost scored from a solo dart, Sexton regained the lead for Ireland with a penalty for 10-7.

With Italy on the ascendency heading toward the interval, it lost possession on the Ireland 22 and the hosts counterattacked. Rob Kearney surged to the Italy 22, Ireland went through the phases, and finally O’Driscoll unlocked the defence in a crowd with a basketball pass to Trimble, who was too close to the line to be stopped. Ireland went to the break 17-7 up.

Ireland’s third try came in the 53rd, a tap penalty leading to prop Cian Healy scoring with a helpful shove from Paul O’Connell, then walking straight to the bench.

O’Driscoll found himself in space but, too slow to have a go, he ran across field looking for support, only to be leveled. After regaining his wind, he then featured in Sexton’s second try with another offload, a reverse flick to Rob Kearney, who fed brother Dave, who found Sexton inside.

That was enough for Sexton, whose Racing Metro club thought he couldn’t play with an injured thumb, and O’Driscoll, who was replaced by Fergus McFadden, who scored a try as Italy ran out of gas. Further tries to replacement forwards Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath further overwhelmed Italy.

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