Inspired Irish smash Azzurri
Inspired Irish smash AzzurriSHARE
Ireland ensured Brian O'Driscoll's last home Test was a memorable one as they scored seven tries in a 46-7 demolition of Italy in Dublin.
O'Driscoll was instrumental in Ireland's first three tries – two of which were scored by his former Leinster teammate Jonathan Sexton – as victory also saw him join former England prop Jason Leonard wit the most Five/Six Nations wins of 44.
"A bit of a joke really to be man of the match after just 60 minutes," grinned O'Driscoll, who also played the biggest matches for his province Leinster at Lansdowne Road.
"I feel humbled by the reaction today. I have loved my time playing in this jersey, it has to come to an end at some stage and I am happy to go out with a big win."
The game was Ireland's penultimate Test of a Six Nations tournament which could see them seal the title with victory over France in Paris next Saturday as their points difference is far better than their rivals.
The 27-point victory gives Ireland a commanding +81 points difference at the top of the table, before France and England take to the field against Scotland and two-time defending champions Wales, who are still also in the title hunt, on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
"We need to go to France with big positivity and try and relive what happened in 2000 (when Ireland won in Paris for the first time in 28 years)," said O'Driscoll.
"It is one thing playing in this jersey but it is another thing altogether winning in this jersey."
O'Driscoll, who set a new world record for caps on Saturday moving on to 140, and his teammates had the Italians on the backfoot from the start.
Although the visitors briefly got on level terms in the first-half they were swept away and went down to a record 18th successive away defeat in the process racking up a Six Nations record of 208 tackles.
O'Driscoll eventually left to a rousing standing ovation on the hour mark in stark contrast to the Italian record caps holder prop, Martin Castrogiovanni, who left the field seven minutes into his record 105th appearance with a rib injury.
Italy, who came to Dublin looking for a second victory over the hosts in as many years, suffered a huge blow before a ball was even kicked, with talismanic captain Sergio Parisse absent through injury, and four other loose forwards unavailable.
A piece of O'Driscoll magic cut the visitors apart for the opening try seven minutes in, when his blind pop-pass fed flyhalf Jonathan Sexton who strolled home for the opening score.
Almost out of nowhere, Italy leveled the game thanks to Leonardo Sarto's second try of the tournament.
Andrew Trimble's huge tackle on halfway looked to result in a turnover for Ireland, but O'Driscoll's mis-kick sent the ball flying into Sarto's hands and from halfway he swatted away the Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, on his way to the tryline.
With seconds remaining to the break, Trimble grabbed his 14th international try and again O'Driscoll was involved, with first a dummy, and then an overhand pass setting the Ulster wing away.
Cian Healy added a third try 15 minutes after the restart, forcing home from three yards out, as Italy began to fade in the face of the Irish onslaught.
Sexton grabbed a second, after more great work by O'Driscoll, and replacements Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath also went over with three late tries that ensure Ireland head to the final weekend with the possibility of giving O'Driscoll a titlewinning send off to his international career.
Man of the match: Jonny Sexton controlled matters expertly, but the main creative force for Ireland was Brian O'Driscoll who showed his class in his record 140th Test match.
Moment of the match: O'Driscoll's backhanded offload to Rob Kearney to set up Sexton's second try was simply sublime.
Villain of the match: Italian scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi for putting Paul O'Connell in a headlock.
Tries: Sexton 2, Trimble, Healy, Cronin, McFadden, McGrath
Cons: Sexton 2, Jackson 2
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Andrea Masi.
Referee: Nigel Owens (France)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)