You’d swear Eddie and Deccie were best buds so intense was the US effort against the Italians in Nelson tonight. Its effect will be seen here in Dunedin on Sunday when Nick Mallet has to use much the same side in trying to overcome Ireland. And this bonus point win was far harder than planned, partly because of their own approach.
A few months back I spent a few days with the Eagles during the Churchill Cup and came away with the clear impression that while beating Russia was the chief target, getting a result against Italy was a very close second.
Technically this was a good result forItaly, for if they can beat Ireland on Sunday they have a good chance to go through, but there are conditions. First off the Wallabies will certainly pick up five points against Russia on Saturday, so they will finish the pool on 15. If Italy beat Ireland the next day, without a bonus point, they will finish on 14.
At that point it would be critical exactly how Ireland lost the game eg if they picked up two bonus points in defeat (by scoring four tries and losing by seven or less) they would finish on 15 points, one ahead of Italy and level with the Aussies but would go through ahead of the Wallabies on the head to head. The nightmare scenario would be to lose with one bonus point, which wouldn’t be enough.
Don’t bother asking your bookies for the odds on Ireland getting through with a calculator, for they are now very warm favourites to beat Italy and go through as winners from Pool C.
“We will see next week who wants to win,” said man of the match Martin Castrogiovanni, still buzzing afterwards. Eddie O’Sullivan made life hard for them by telling his players to hang onto the ball as long as possible, and forget about territory, and it forced Italy to make far more tackles than they wanted.
But passion was also their problem tonight, for it clouded their vision and made for even more work than was good for them.
Remember in that lengthy series of scrums in the second half that eventually saw Eagle Louis Stanfill binned, Sergio Parrisse literally shouted at George Clancy – who must have nightmares about scrums every time he rests his head on the pillow – that they wanted to scrum again?
That particular series of set-pieces was doomed to failure because it was too far out for a pushover, and getting the yellow card was all the Italians would gain from the exchange as Clancy was aching to get away from there. So they scrummed again, against seven men. It amazes me how many teams don’t run a back-row move against a two-man opposition back row. You already have the platform, and executing it is hardly complex.
But by then the Azzurri were seeing red, and on they went, whereupon George blew for a wheeled scrum that was an interesting call. Yes, soon after that they got their penalty try at another scrum series closer in, but the aggregate of all that effort will tell against them.
Italy won’t have anything like the same set-piece dominance against Ireland. And still they don’t have enough going forward behind the scrum. Going backwards too they continue to have issues, cruelly exposed by Paul Emerick. Ireland will attack between Orquera and Garcia where the 10 tends to stick out a soft arm rather then defend aggressively. And still you wouldn’t trust Mirco Bergamasco to be the difference in a tight game.
So a good night for Ireland, courtesy of their previous coach. Not sure the current one will be ringing him though, looking for pointers.