Ireland knock gritty Italy out

Ireland booked a spot in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday thanks to a hard-fought 16-9 victory over Italy at Olympic Park in London.

The result means that Ireland and France will qualify from Pool D, with their showndown next weekend set to decide who tops the group.

Over 53,000 mostly Irish fans turned up for what proved to be an absorbing clash as the Azzurri pushed the pool favourites right down to the wire.

Ireland led 10-6 at the interval thanks to a try from Keith Earls, with the centre becoming Ireland's leading try-scorer in RWC history in an evenly-contested first half. It proved to be the only five-pointer of the game as Ireland failed to find any real rhythm.

Italy put in their best performance of the tournament but their ill-advised tactic of throwing long skip passes made it easy for the Irish defence to drift across.

Ireland on the other hand will frustrated by their error count. They dominated the possession stats in the second period though, and Johnny Sexton's boot kept them in front.

Italy's wonky lineout didn't help their cause either, although they just edged the scrum battle.

Italy were dealt an injury blow inside the opening three minutes as centre Gonzalo Garcia limped off, but the Azzurri nevertheless made a bright start, probing on the Irish 22.

Ireland drew first blood, however, following a Sexton break. Italy were caught offside and the Irish fly-half duly opened the scoring from the kicking tee.

But the big hits were raining down from Italy and the men in blue were looking comfortable in possession, earning a penalty for Tommaso Allan to slot home and level the scores.

Some very slick work from the Irish backs created the only try as Robbie Henshaw's excellent offload put Earls over, and Sexton had no trouble with the conversion, so Ireland led 10-3 at the end of the first quarter as the green-tinged crowd broke into song.

Italy kept working hard and Allan could cut the deficit with his second penalty. Twice the Azzurri butchered overlaps with long passes out wide then fluffed a lineout five metres from the Irish line, having turned down three points.

Sexton hit the upright with a long-range shot at goal and Conor Murray knocked on with Ireland pressing, meaning the scores wouldn't change before the half-time break.

Italy were unlucky not to get a try early in the second half as Josh Furno's foot scraped the touchline in the act of going over, but Italy were clearly building in confidence.

Allan's third penalty cut the gap to a single point and Ireland were under pressure but Sexton replied, with interest, following back-to-back breakdown penalties to make it 16-9 as the game entered the final quarter.

Allan fell short with long-range effort but Italy were thrown a lifeline when Peter O'Mahony was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle, meaning Ireland would finish the game a man down.

It was a nail-biting finale as Sexton missed a penalty from out wide but two key turnovers won by Jamie Heaslip kept the Italians at bay.

Man of the match: A handful of candidates but once again it was Iain Henderson who stood out for Ireland, carrying powerfully and working hard on defence.

Moment of the match: It must be Keith Earl's try which gave the Irish a gap that they never relinquished.

Villain of the match: Nothing nasty to report

The scorers:

For Ireland: 
Try: Earls 
Con: Sexton 
Pens: Sexton 3 
Yellow card: O'Mahony 

For Italy: 
Pens: Allan 3

Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.

Venue: Olympic Stadium, London
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Angus Gardner (Australia)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

By Ross Hastie in London