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Italy beats Ireland for first time in Six Nations

Associated Press

3/16/2013 1:31:32 PM

ROME -- Italy defeated Ireland for the first time in Six Nations rugby, dominating the injury-hit and ill-disciplined Irish in all but the 22-15 scoreline at a sold-out Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

Giovanbattista Venditti scored the only try and the only wonder was it took Italy 49 minutes. Numerous other chances were wasted by knock-ons or poor passes by the rampant Italians on a sunny day in Rome.

But at fulltime they were celebrating their first win over Ireland since 1997, three years before they joined the Six Nations, and the end of a 17-match losing run to the visitors. The Italians also bookended a middling tournament with two great wins, after the opener against France.

"We've really built two wins against two squads with a lot of history, two of the strongest squads in the world," Italy captain Sergio Parisse said. "We're a squad that's improving and this also sends a strong message to France and Ireland for the World Cup."

Italy is grouped in the same pool as France and Ireland for the 2015 World Cup.

Ireland was condemned to a record-extending fourth straight away loss in the tournament, and the possibility of the wooden spoon depending on the result of the late France-Scotland match.

Losing in Rome, however, may have already sealed the fate of Declan Kidney, Ireland coach since 2008, whose contract ends in the summer.

"I wasn't thinking about that, I was just thinking about getting a win," Kidney said. "But we didn't manage to do it today."

Luciano Orquera nailed a conversion and four penalties for Italy, and Gonzalo Garcia added a monster penalty from near halfway to give them the lead at the interval by 9-6, which flattered the Irish.

"We proved we have nothing to envy from other teams," Parisse said, before allowing that Italy should have had a bigger lead going into halftime. "That's also linked to our capabilities. We're not able to dominate yet."

Paddy Jackson booted all of the points for Ireland, which somehow closed to within one with 16 minutes to go, but the injury-cursed Irish suffered more injuries which ravaged the backline, and didn't help themselves with three yellow cards.

The madness even affected Brian O'Driscoll, who ruined his 125th and likely last test for Ireland when he stamped on the chest of Simone Favaro and was lucky to be given a card colored yellow and not red.

Ireland lock Donnacha Ryan was sin-binned in the 69th for a late and dangerous tackle, and scrumhalf Conor Murray was binned in the last minute for an off-the-ball tackle.

Ireland struck first through Jackson, but Orquera had Italy 6-3 in front from the 22nd with his second successful penalty after hitting the post.

Meanwhile, Ireland, which came to Rome without 12 injured players, lost two more backs in quick succession. Winger Keith Earls apparently dislocated his shoulder in a tackle, then inside centre Luke Marshall was concussed after knocking heads with Jackson, leaving Ireland with six backs for a time.

Earls was replaced by Luke Fitzgerald, who left before halftime with a knee injury, prompting the depleted Irish to play flanker Peter O'Mahony on the left wing.

O'Driscoll's yellow card gave Garcia his chance to kick from halfway but somehow Ireland was still in touch at the break, which finished with Jackson's second successful kick.

The try Italy threatened finally arrived when Venditti borrowed under, after Alessandro Zanni, Edoardo Gori and Favaro went close.

But when Parisse was sin-binned for tripping Ian Madigan, Jackson kicked three straight penalties in his absence to close to 16-15.

That was when Italy prop Andrea Lo Cicero, playing his record 103rd test, walked off into retirement in tears to a rousing ovation.

Ireland had a chance to send the rest of Italy into tears, but the yellow cards to Ryan then Murray gave Orquera penalties he didn't miss, concluding Italy's first two-win campaign since 2007.