Andy Farrell insists Test matches should be anxious affairs after depleted Ireland survived a major scare to keep alive their Grand Slam hopes with an unconvincing 34-20 bonus-point win over Italy.
he world’s top-ranked nation were well below their fluent best in Rome and head coach Farrell was pictured biting his nails during a tense second half in which the fearless hosts moved to within four points.
Mack Hansen’s second try of the afternoon, following scores from stand-in skipper James Ryan, Hugo Keenan and Bundee Aki, ultimately extinguished Azzurri resistance nine minutes from time.
Head coach Farrell was satisfied to avoid an upset and remain in contention for a Guinness Six Nations clean sweep but conceded it was far from plain sailing.
He said: “Was I biting my nails? My mother’s going to go mad. I shouldn’t have done that. It was a tough match. It was a proper Test match.
“You know when they get the field position that they’re craving that they’re going to be unbelievably dangerous.
“Which Irish fan wouldn’t have been biting their nails when the cross-field kick (from Ignacio Brex at 27-20) went in and bounced very close. That’s what Test matches are all about and that’s how it should be.
“To come away with the bonus-point win, we’ll take that and move on.”
In-form Ireland arrived in the Italian capital seeking to build on impressive wins over Wales and France but without a host of star names due to injury.
Swathes of green jerseys packed the terraces, with scores from Ryan, Keenan, Aki and Hansen ensuring a bonus-point was in the bag by half-time.
Yet, sparked by the mercurial talents of fit-again fly-half Paolo Garbisi, who kicked 10 points, and full-back Ange Capuozzo resilient Italy refused to roll over.
Pierre Bruno’s fine intercept try just before the break, adding to an early score from scrum-half Stephen Varney, ignited fresh optimism of a first Azzurri home win in the championship since they defeated Declan Kidney’s Ireland 22-15 a decade ago.
Garbisi reduced Ireland’s lead to 24-20 in the 56th minute, leading to some challenging moments for the visitors before man-of-the-match Hansen eventually put the result beyond doubt.
Lock Ryan, who captained the side in the absence of the injured Johnny Sexton, admits performances must improve moving on to March appointments with title rivals Scotland and England.
“We made it quite difficult for ourselves at times, particularly in the first half,” he said.
“That’s still a positive for us in a way because we’re three from three, top of the table, but there’s still a lot more for us.
“We have a good two weeks to get ready for Scotland and we have to be better.”
Perennial wooden spoon winners Italy are proving a far greater threat in this year’s tournament but, despite plenty of positives, slipped to a third successive loss, to the frustration of head coach Kieran Crowley.
“We don’t want to become a team that gets pats on the back because we’re playing well and showing good style – we want to get over the line,” he said. “We’re absolutely gutted about that result today.
“Yes, they’re the number one side in the world but we thought we could really give them a crack and we gave them a crack. We just weren’t accurate enough in certain areas.”