Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico
EVEN WITH CAPTAIN Rory Best ruled out due to a stomach bug, this felt like a day when things were going to go right for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.
With perfect conditions in Rome and an Italian side who seemed happy to roll over from early on, Ireland scored nine tries on their way to a dominant bonus-point victory that brings them back into the race for the Six Nations title.
CJ Stander was man of the match with three tries. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Schmidt and his players will head into the first break weekend with their confidence greatly boosted, having bounced back from the disappointing opening-weekend defeat away to Scotland.
Ireland fans, meanwhile, can start to hope for a possible third Six Nations crown in four years, ahead of their first home clash of the championship against France on 25 February.
There is, of course, a long way to go in deciding the victor of this year’s competition, but this display was more like the Ireland side we saw in November.
Indeed, the 63-10 scoreline is a new record for Ireland in the Six Nations, bettering the 60-13 victory over the same opposition all the way back in 2000.
Debutant Niall Scannell was excellent as Best’s deputy, but it was man of the match CJ Stander who stole the limelight with a hat-trick of tries, while sub Craig Gilroy also managed to get over for three during his 33 minutes on the pitch.
Keith Earls scored a brace and Garry Ringrose, excellent throughout, dotted down Ireland’s other try, as Ireland’s attacking game proved far too clinical for Italy to handle. Conor O’Shea clearly has a huge job on his hands.
The only concern for Ireland was seeing Robbie Henshaw replaced with an apparent back injury after a superb performance in midfield, while Rob Kearney also appeared to be in discomfort towards the end.
A big aerial win from Simon Zebo and a scrum penalty boded well for Schmidt’s side early on, before the left wing had a try chalked off in the corner as he lost control of the ball in the process of dotting down.
But Ireland had penalty advantage and opted for the close-range scrum again, Henshaw and Stander carrying powerfully before Paddy Jackson exploited an overlap superbly, luring two defenders into ball watching and firing a flat pass that put Earls over in the right corner.
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Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Carlo Canna slotted a penalty for Italy after a sloppy exit saw Ireland punished for being offside, but Stander was over for their second try just minutes later.
There was a sumptuous one-handed offload from Jamie Heaslip to the hard-working Henshaw in the build-up, before Zebo threw a gorgeous skip pass to Stander on the left touchline and the blindside flanker dove over after fending Angelo Esposito.
Jackson’s rather ugly conversion was on target for 14-3, as we then saw signs of an improved Ireland defence with Ringrose making two superb reads and shooting out of the line.
Earls’ second score arrived in the 26th minute on the end of a 13-phase passage of attack that started with a clever scrum starter play allowing Zebo to beat Maxime Mbanda down the blindside.
Sean O’Brien, Stander and Henshaw all made impactful carries, before Ireland spread the ball wide right and fullback Kearney’s very flat pass freed Earls to touch down, Jackson again converting.
The Italians, dire and ill disciplined up to that point, did find a response after Ireland exited poorly, with their maul earning them a penalty try that also saw Donnacha Ryan yellow carded for collapsing. Canna converted.
Stander scored two tries in the first half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Probably a little angered at the yellow – after repeated Italian infringements were not carded – Ireland earned good field position in the right corner and Stander showed brutish power to batter through three defenders and score, thereby ensuring Ireland notched the first-ever try-scoring bonus point in the Six Nations.
Jackson’s fourth successful conversion meant a 28-10 half-time lead for Schmidt’s men, and Stander had his hat-trick within six minutes of the second half beginning.
This time, the Munster man burst to the outside shoulder of Murray as the scrum-half made an arcing run off the base of a ruck, Stander careering through the Italian line and then beating fullback Edoardo Padovani with ease.
Again Jackson converted, but there was a concern for Ireland moment later as Henshaw was replaced and received attention to his back. Gilroy entered the fray, with Earls moving to outside centre, but Ireland’s attacking momentum was stymied for a period.
The sixth try finally arrived in the 69th minute, as O’Brien stripped an Italian carrier and then offloaded to Stander, who passed to Heaslip, who in turn hit Gilroy.
The Ulster man, playing in the Six Nations for the first time since 2013, sold a dummy to replacement Italy centre Michele Campagnaro, accelerated through the defence and rounded Canna in the backfield, allowing Jackson an easy conversion.
Gilroy attempts to keep the ball in play for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Ringrose was next over for Ireland, taking a switch line off Jackson in midfield and beating three slow-reacting Italian forwards with his impressive balance, footwork and pace, Jackson hitting his seventh successful conversion from underneath the posts.
Gilroy grabbed his second try in the closing minutes, gathering in a kick from Stander after the ball had bounced awkwardly in behind the retreating Italian defence. The speedy wing gratefully accepted the gift and sprinted home from more than 30 metres out.
Gilroy was then on the receiving end of a wide Jackson pass to grab his hat-trick in the final play of the game, with the Ireland out-half knocking over his ninth conversion of the day to round out a truly dominant Ireland display.
ITALY: Edoardo Padovani; Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti (Michele Campagnaro ’49), Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti; Carlo Canna (Tommaso Allan ’71), Edoardo Gori (Giorgio Bronzini ’61); Andrea Lovotti (Sami Panico ’64), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Ornel Gega ’47), Lorenzo Cittadini (Dario Chistolini ’47 – reversal ’60); Marco Fuser, Dries Van Schalkwyk (George Biagi ’47); Maxime Mbanda, Simone Favaro (Abraham Steyn ’57), Sergio Parisse (captain).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Craig Gilroy ’47), Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’75); Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray (Kieran Marmion ’69); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’51), Niall Scannell (James Tracy ’63), Tadhg Furlong (John Ryan ’54); Donnacha Ryan (yellow card ’32 to ’42), Devin Toner (Ultan Dillane ’61); CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien (Josh van der Flier ’69), Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Referee: Glen Jackson [NZR].
– This article was updated at 18.07 to correct ’2′ to ’3′ after Craig Gilroy’s name in the scorers section.
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