IRELAND'S Grand Slam ambitions remain on track, but only after surviving a bit of a scare against a game Italian outfit at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday afternoon.
James Lowe should have scored after just 90 seconds but he knocked on in the act of scoring in the left corner. He got away with a score he shouldn’t have been given against France, but he was never going to get away with this one.
However, it didn’t matter, as within a minute Ireland scored. Bundee Aki gave a superb offload in the tackle to put Lowe away down the left touchline, and he had the simple task of feeding the supporting James Ryan on his inside to score the opening try.
If Ireland thought it was going to be easy then they got a quick wake-up call, as the Italians put the ball through the hands, and eventually, number eight Lorenzo Cannone punched a huge hole down the right to get within five metres of the Irish line. Scrum-half Stephen Varney had the simple task of picking up and sniping over for a superb eighth-minute score.
Ireland scored again in the 13th minute, with a brilliant score off first-phase possession. From an Irish scrum on half way, Ross Byrne and Mack Hansen combined to put Aki in the clear and when he fed Hugo Keenan the full-back had a lot to do, but somehow he skipped through a couple would-be tackles and had the balance and pace to get under the posts.
Paolo Garbisi made it 10-12 with a 19th-minute penalty but Ireland were making hay down the Italian right-wing channel early on and got in down that part of the pitch in the 21st minute with Josh van der Flier and James Lowe combining to send Aki over in the left corner.
The bonus point was in the bag by the 35th minute. The pack had sucked in the Italian defence, which allowed Craig Casey and Stuart McCloskey to fling it wide for Mack Hansen to score in the right corner, but Italy stayed in touch when left wing Pierre Bruno plucked a loose Aki pass to race under the sticks from 60m to make it 17-24 at half time.
Paolo Garbisi reduced the gap to four in the 56th minute. Ireland needed a settler, and they got one when Ross Byrne nailed Ireland’s first score in half an hour, with a penalty in the 65th minute, and in the 71st minute, the game was finally made secure when Hansen ran onto a sublime Conor Murray offload to score under the posts.
Garbisi (1 pen, 2 cons), Varney, Bruno (1 try each).
Byrne (1 pen, 3 cons), Hansen (2 tries), Ryan, Keenan, Aki (1 try each).
Capuozzo; Padovani, Brex, Menoncello, Bruno; Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Nicotera, Ferrari; N Cannone, Ruzza; Negri, Lamaro (c), L Cannone.
Bigi for Nicotera (30), Nicotera for Bigi (40), Riccioni for Ferrari (47), Bigi and Zani for Nicotera and Fischetti (60), Pettinelli for L Cannone (65), Fusco for Varney (68), Allan for Garbisi (72), Morisi for Menoncello (78).
Keenan; Lowe, Aki, McCloskey, Hansen; Byrne, Casey; Porter, Kelleher, Bealham; Henderson, Ryan (c); Doris, van der Flier, Conan.
O’Toole for Bealham (35), Baird for Henderson (53), Sheehan and O’Mahony for Kelleher and Conan (56), Kilcoyne and Murray for Porter and Casey (65), O’Brien for McCloskey (72), Crowley for Byrne (78).
Mike Adamson (SRU)