Man Behind The Match: McLean and Italy claim an historic Irish scalp

In the final game of the 2013 Championship, the Azzurri welcomed Ireland to the Stadio Olimpico in Roma, a city famed for its history of heroes, myths and legends.

In the final game of the 2013 Championship, the Azzurri welcomed Ireland to the Stadio Olimpico in Roma, a city famed for its history of heroes, myths and legends.

But Rome was about to adopt another set of famous sons, as the Italians would make history to become the first Azzurri side in the Championship to defeat Ireland.

And on the eve of the two sides locking horns in Rome again in the current Championship, former full-back Luke McLean has taken us back to that special day.


Italy had set the tone for this famous win in the opening round, beating the French 23-18.

It was the second time in a row the Azzurri had beaten Les Bleus at home in the Championship and helped to blow the 2013 campaign wide-open.

The Italians could not carry the momentum into their next few games, and tasted defeat to Scotland, Wales and England, despite pushing Stuart Lancaster’s men all the way at Twickenham.

“Obviously, Italy-France has been one of those games where there’s a bit of a rivalry,” explained McLean.

“Everyone gets up that little bit more for it. We took to the stage that game and played really well.

“The match against England was probably one of our best performances. Everyone really stepped up.

“You look back at results and no one is going to realise it was a close game. It was a massive result for us. I still remember doing the review and thinking wow, if we had done a couple more things right it could have been a different result.”


So attentions turned to Ireland and round five – as Declan Kidney’s side arrived lacking confidence of their own.

They took an early lead however, when Paddy Jackson kicked a penalty before the Italians began to force Irish errors and were awarded three quick-fire penalties.

Azzurri fly-half Luciano Orquera managed to plant two of his three attempts to give the hosts a narrow 6-3 lead.

Jackson missed a penalty to level the scores before a moment of madness from Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll earned him a yellow card.

Italy attempted to push home their advantage but could only chalk up another three points this time off the boot of Gonzalo Garcia, before Jackson made it 9-6 at the break.

“When you’re the underdog you always think, other people are going to write us off, the bookies have written us off, but we still believe. Everyone bought into it during the week,” said McLean.

“If you’re at home in the Six Nations and you can get off to a decent start and get the crowd involved it makes it a hell of a lot easier for the home side.

“To see O’Driscoll go off, he’s one of their leaders and it puts us in the ascendancy and got the crowd involved. You do start believing a little bit more.

“You’ve got ten minutes when it’s 15 on 14 and if you can hold onto the ball and chip away at the score board it starts putting some doubt into their minds and you know they’ve got to work a lot harder before O’Driscoll comes back onto the field.”


Italy came out strongly at the beginning of the second-half just as McLean had hoped.

They got their reward when Gio Venditti’s powerful drive resulted in the winger dotting down to give Italy more of a commanding lead which their play had warranted.

Orquera duly converted, but with just under 30 minutes to play, home captain Sergio Parisse was sin-binned for a trip on Ian Madigan.

With the iconic Parisse in the bin, Ireland fought back, and Jackson held his nerve to kick three penalties to draw the visitors within one point of Italy.

The hosts searched to regain some breathing space, but Garcia could not land his long-range penalty.

But then both Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray were sent to the bin in a close succession, providing Orquera with two pressure kicks to win the game for Italy.

The fly-half planted both to secure an historic 22-15 victory and set up tremendous scenes of jubilation amongst players and fans alike.

McLean said: “When we scored we did start to believe it was our day.

“We’ve had some tight losses. Duncan Weir hit a drop goal in Rome and Scotland again beat us in South Africa with an 82nd or 83rd minute try, so there’s always that doubt and fear that things could go wrong.

“Once the crowd gets involved, the adrenaline is pumping you start looking at the positives and start to trust the system, trust what you have trained during the week and everything will be alright.

“Parisse has been the leader in the Italian set-up. Having him off the field and every time you lose a player it makes it a lot more difficult. Everyone is trying to work harder as 14 men.

“When your captain goes off as well, there’s a sense of confusion. Who’s captain now? What do we do? Do we hold onto the ball to stop giving Ireland a chance? We conceded nine points in ten minutes which was not great.

“You back your kickers all day long. You know how hard they train, how long they spend working after training. You’re not really that nervous. I felt pretty confident.”


Italy finished the championships in fourth with two wins, finishing above both Ireland and France, to equal their best campaign, a performance which has not yet been replicated since.

McLean added: “As a championship, that year stands out for me. We set the standard. It’s only happened one other time that Italy have won two games, so you don’t take it for granted.

“You put in a lot of hard work and you’re together for a long time, so you have to have patience. Everyone is working to one common goal to achieve something that probably at the start no one really thought was possible.

“You celebrate at the time, but in hindsight you realise how big an achievement it was. I’m definitely proud of what we did that year.

“It was definitely the best Championship that I’ve been involved in and over the past few years it’s one of the best we’ve had.”

Italy 22

Tries: Venditti Conversions: Orquera Penalties: Orquera (4), Garcia Sin Bin: Parisse

Ireland 15

Penalties: Jackson (5) Sin Bin: O’Driscoll, Ryan, Murray

Italy: A Masi; G Venditti, G Canale, G Garcia, L McLean; L Orquera, E Gori; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini, Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, A Zanni, S Favaro, S Parisse (c) Replacements: T Benvenuti, T Botes, M Rizzo, D Giazzon, A De Marchi, A Pavanello, F Minto, P Derbyshire

Ireland: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray, C Healy, R Best, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (c), Replacements: I Madigan, L Fitzgerald, D Kilcoyne, S Cronin, S Archer, D Toner, P Marshall, I Henderson