Ireland 50 Italy 17
IRELAND gave themselves every opportunity of a Six Nations title triumph next weekend in Paris with a highly efficient and professional victory over a tournament whipping boys Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Paolo Garbisi opened the scoring in the third minute, after No. 8 Jake Polledri had burst right through the Irish midfield and fed his supporting scrum-half Marcello Violi, and when he was held up short Conor Murray was sent to the sin bin for what was deemed a cynical penalty concession.
Being down a man did not hurt Ireland, however, with powerful number 8 CJ Stander crashing over for the opening try in the ninth minute from close range, after good pressure on the Italian line, and out-half Jonathan Sexton added a penalty in the 14th minute to give Ireland early control of the tie.
With Italy struggling to go through the phases, when in possession, Ireland had plenty of attacking opportunities, and Hugo Keenan scored his first try for Ireland in the 13th minute when he finished off a good move in the left corner, after some slick passing from Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw.
Less than two minutes later the Leinster debutant was dotting down once more, after a great run by full-back Jacob Stockdale, but unfortunately, the try was disallowed due to a block by James Ryan in midfield which aided Stockdale’s run.
He did not have to wait long for his second try though, as he was on the end of a well-executed Conor Murray kick after a length of the pitch move had been instigated by a wonderful rip by blindside Caelan Doris, as Ireland led at the break by 24-3.
Ireland began the second half knowing that they needed to improve their points difference, with next week’s title showdown in mind, and this was not helped when Italy scored a try in the 55th minute when right-wing Edoardo Padovani intercepted a sloppy Sexton pass to race clear to score.
It took until the 61st minute for Ireland to secure the four-try bonus point, which came from a driving maul, with the impressive openside Will Connors getting a try on his debut.
The extremely inexperienced Italian side began to flag at this point, with captain Sexton barrelling over from close range in the 65th minute after Stander and Doris had punched huge holes up the left flank.
Another was added in the 69th minute when Bundee Aki finished in the left corner after a brilliant Tadhg Beirne turnover and a sublime Peter O’Mahony offload had put him in the clear.
Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan also scored his first try for Ireland in the 80th minute from another devastating maul, but Ireland conceded a try at the death to Garbisi, and those late seven points conceded could prove extremely costly next weekend in the points race for the title.
Scorers for Ireland: Sexton (1 try, 1 pen, 5 con), Keenan (2 tries) Stander, Connors, Aki, Heffernan (1 try), Byrne (1 con).
Italy: Garbisi (1 try, 1 pen, 2 con), Padovani (1 try).
IRELAND: Stockdale; Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Keenan; Sexton (c), Murray; Stander, Connors, Doris, Ryan, Beirne, Porter, Herring, Healy.
Subs: Henshaw for Ringrose (28 HIA), Heffernan for Herring (51), Ed Byrne for Healy (56), Bealham for Porter (63), O’Mahony and Gibson-Park for Doris and Murray (67), Dillane and Ross Byrne for Ryan and Sexton (75).
ITALY: Hayward; Padovani, Morisi, Canna, Bellini; Garbisi, Violi; Polledri, Steyn, Negri, Cannone, Lazzaroni, Zilocchi, Bigi (c), Fischetti.
Subs: Lucchesi, Ferrari, Ceccarelli and Sisi for Zilocchi, Bigi, Fischetti and Cannone (47) Meyer, Mori for Morisi (54) Mbanda, Braley or Violi (73).
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)