The Shitshow That Was Italy 2013 - In The Words Of Sexton, BOD, And Sean O'Brien

By Colman Stanley

Nine. That was the points difference which separated Ireland from being awarded the Wooden Spoon instead of France at the 2013 Six Nations.

The Irish and French had managed woefully low points totals of 72 and 73 - compared t0 168 and 141 in 2022, respectively - with Ireland's defence holding out in the battle for fifth place.

The famously disastrous tournament was bookended by Ireland's first and only Six Nations loss to Italy, in a game where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Aside from being their first Six Nations loss to the Azzuri, the game is also known as 'the one where O'Mahony played on the wing.'


After defeats to England and Scotland, and a draw with France, Ireland were already depleted from injuries heading into their clash at the Stadio Olimpico, and the difficult state of affairs was compounded during the match as players began to drop under the Roman sun.

"We limp on to Rome," wrote the captain on the day, Brian O'Driscoll, in his autobiography The Test.

We’ve got a strong squad but it’s always going to hurt when you’re missing big players, like Paulie, Stephen Ferris, Sexto, Darce and Tommy Bowe, all at the same time.

We’re not New Zealand, blessed with depth in every department. One of the things people forget about our Slam-winning season was the fact that we suffered almost no injuries.

In the history of the Six Nations we’ve never lost to Italy, but the gods are sending us messages early in the game. Earlsy goes off injured in the twenty-fourth minute. Three minutes later Luke Marshall follows him into the treatment room.

Luke Fitzgerald comes off injured. He’s only been on the pitch for twelve minutes as Earlsy’s replacement. Deccie has run out of options in the backline.

He moves Peter O’Mahony from the blindside flank to the wing and waits for the next calamity.

16 March 2013; Peter O'Mahony, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

For those who missed the entirety of the tournament through injury, the undeniable shit-show that was taking place was still palpable from home.

Despite his well-known competitive nature, one gets the impression from the words in his own autobiography, that Johnny Sexton wasn't too upset as he sat at home in Goatstown watching the carnage unfold.


A good one to miss. That’s the line I’m getting, in numerous text messages, as I sit watching our Six Nations campaign unravel in Rome.

Friends and family get in touch to assure me that it would have been very hard to make a positive impression when everything was falling apart so dramatically and players were dropping like flies.

And it’s true, if we thought we’d had bad luck with injuries earlier in the championship, today was ridiculous.

Ireland also fell foul of yellow cards with Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray getting sent to the bin in the 68th and 79th minutes, respectively.

These were the second and third binnings Ireland received during the game from referee Wayne Barnes, after O'Driscoll was sent to the sidelines in the 29th minute - the second time in his international career, and the second against Italy - for something that was more an old-school/amateur era play that in 2023 would probably warrant a red card.

Their openside flanker, Simone Favaro, makes a tackle on Ian Madigan. He rolls over on our side of the ruck and just lies there. He flails his arms as if he’s trapped and can’t move.

He’s slowing down our ball and hoping to get away with it. I get in there and give him some shoe, right in the chest. I’m thinking, Get the fuck out of our ruck!

My boot is in the vicinity of the ball, but not close enough. I look to see if anyone’s spotted it. If they have, I know I’m in trouble. Romain Poite, the touch judge, has a word with Wayne Barnes.

Out comes the yellow card. It’s only the second time in my international career that I’ve been sin-binned. Two yellows in 130 Tests for Ireland and the Lions – both against Italy, nine years apart.

16 March 2013; Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll looks on from the sinbin during the first half. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Ireland went in at half-time that day 9-6 down. And while Paddy Jackson's accuracy off the tee reduced a 16-6 lead to 16-15 in the second 40, Italy sensed that this was an Ireland side at their weakest, and were able to see the game out 22-15.

The clash also marked the end of the 'Deccie' era. As Sean O'Brien, who played seven that day, put it: "That was the nail in Deccie's coffin."

Reading through the memoirs of players from that era, the sentiment and opinion towards Deccie remains fairly consistent; he was a great manager and a lovely man who deserves an immense amount of respect for his achievements with Munster and Ireland. However, his hands on coaching and tactical nous were not at the level of the likes of Joe Schmidt and Stuart Lancaster.

"Declan Kidney is an incredibly smart man. He’s probably one of the best man managers I’ve ever come across," wrote O'Brien in Fuel.

His ‘hands on’ coaching obviously isn’t his strong point, but in everything else he’s incredible.

He’d led Ireland to a Grand Slam in 2009 and this was 2013. All coaches have a certain shelf life, be it a club or an international team, because it’s so hard to maintain that drive within players, to keep challenging players and to keep developing as a coach and create new tactics and moves year after year.

The best coaches are the ones who stay ahead of the curve all the time, who have a Plan B and a Plan C fine-tuned and ready to use if they’re needed. That’s what the All Blacks’ coaches do better than anyone.

They’ll have a Plan C that they’ll have worked on for months in training, just in case. A coach has to have a few plans nowadays because defences are brilliant and the opposition generally have you figured out pretty quickly. They have analysts looking at every single aspect of your game.

So you have to have a varied attack and a varied way of going about things and you have to do it exceptionally well when you do go with whatever plan you’ve devised.

When compared with Andy Farrell and the current Ireland squad, it looks like the 2023 side do have multiple plans and more than one way of winning.

None the less, Declan Kidney still has two Heineken Cups to his name and a historic Grand Slam. That is more than Farrell and many from the current squad can say.

SEE ALSO: Our Changed But Experienced Ireland 23 To Take On Italy

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