O’Driscoll magic guides Ireland to a hard earned victory against Italy, with classic outside breaks from the Ireland captain setting up tries for Geordan Murphy and Peter Stringer.

Italy led 9-8 early in the second half but Stringer’s try gave Ireland a lead they never lost The hosts cut the gap to 18-12 with 10 minutes left and nearly scored through Ludovico Nitoglia, but Denis Hickie’s try ensured an Irish victory.

Italy cam out with a flying start and quickly took a penalty lead after seven minutes through Luciano Orquera. The Italians were pounding the Irish defence and, for the first quarter, the Irish pack struggled to secure any ball for their backs.

Just before the half-hour mark, O’Driscoll created a sparkling try for Murphy. The Ireland captain ran a dummy scissors and made a magical outside break before drawing the full-back and putting the diving Murphy in at the corner. O’Gara missed the twice-taken conversion and the visitors found themselves trailing once again.

Roland de Marigny took over the kicking duties for Italy from the hapless Orquera, and landed a penalty either side of the break to put Italy into a 9-8 lead.

The only Ireland player offering a real threat was O’Driscoll, and it was his break that set up the second try for the visitors. Shane Horgan threw an overhead pass as he was about to be forced into touch and Stringer scooted over, with O’Gara landing the tricky conversion.

A penalty apiece saw Ireland leading 18-12 as the game entered the final quarter, but they were lucky to survive when Italy launched a series of attacks. Winger Nitoglia dropped the ball as he reached for the line and Italy nearly rumbled over from a driving maul.

An O’Gara penalty put Ireland more than a converted try ahead and they made the game safe when Hickie latched onto an inside pass from Murphy and crossed for a converted try.

O’Driscoll limped off late on, joining centre partner Gordon D’Arcy on the sidelines, and the final word went to Italy.

Prop Martin Castrogiovanni powered over for a try which was fitting reward for an Italian pack which had kept the Irish under pressure throughout.

De Marigny; Mi Bergamasco, Canale, Masi, Nitoglia; Orquera, Troncon; Lo Cicero, Ongaro, Castrogiovanni; Dellape, Bortolami; Persico, Ma Bergamasco, Parisse.
Replacements: Perugini, Intoppa, Del Fava, Dal Maso, Griffen, Pozzebon, Robertson.

Murphy, Horgan, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Hickie, O’Gara, Stringer, Corrigan, Byrne, Hayes, O’Kelly, O’Connell, S Easterby, Leamy, Foley.
Replacements: Sheahan, Horan, O’Callaghan, Miller, G Easterby, Humphreys, Dempsey.

Referee: P O’Brien (New Zealand)