Ireland came into Round 2 of this year’s NatWest 6 Nations in search on tries and their intention was clear early on as they kept ball in hand in the opening period of the game.
Last weekend in Paris the Irish had failed to breach the French defence, and in all honesty never even looked like scoring a try in that game. In order to maintain a challenging position in this year’s championships, Joe Schmidt’s side needed a four try bonus point following England’s achievement of the same against Italy in Round 1 last weekend.
Ireland broke the deadlock early to the relief of the home crowd. Robbie Henshaw went over following big carries from Iain Henderson and Andrew Porter, who had been introduced early due to an injury to Tadhg Furlong. Conor Murray, who would later be named Man of the Match, found Henshaw who took a great angle for an opening score and a 5-0 lead, before Johnny Sexton, who was 4 from 4 in successful kicks in the opening period, added the extras from in front of the posts for a 7-0 lead.
Murray was again heavily involved in the action when touching down for his side’s second five-pointer. Excellent work along the touchline by Jack Conan, who sucked in Italian defenders, provided the opportunity for Murray to race down the touch line and score his side’s second try. An excellent conversion from Sexton from on the touchline, 39m out, saw his side move 14-0 ahead.
By this time Ireland were well in control, and half way to the necessary four tries required. Connacht’s Bundee Aki scored his first try for his adopted-county when providing Ireland’s third on 21 minutes. A brilliant surge from Porter allowed the New Zealand-born player crash over, before Sexton again added the extras for a 21-0 score, with just 22 minutes played, almost a point a minute.
Minutes before the halftime whistle, Keith Earls, who is having an excellent season and would back track late in the game to prevent a certain Italian try, was on Bundee Aki’s left when receiving a lovely pass. Aki had sucked in the Italians as he jinked through their midfield, allowing the ‘Moyross Magician’ an easy run down the touchline from about 22 metres out for the crucial bonus point try, to leave Ireland in a comfortable position at half time: Ireland 28 Italy 0.
The earlier moments of the second half saw Schmidt’s side continue in the same try-scoring vein as earlier. A loop play from Italy didn’t work to plan as Sergio Parisse lost possession to Robbie Henshaw, who gladly accepted possession and sprinted to the line with the Italian back three chasing him down. Unfortunately for the centre, he injured his shoulder in the process of touching down for the try, his second of the game and Ireland’s fifth of the Test match, and news of whether he will miss the remainder of the season is awaited.
Leinster’s Jordan Larmour becomes the 19th International to come from St. Andrew’s College when he came off the bench early in the second period, as he took to the field in place of the injured Henshaw. Earls then moved to the centre to play alongside Bundee Aki in order to accommodate the debutant.
On 51 minutes Joe Schmidt replaced his half back pairing of Murray and Sexton, allowing Marmion and Carbery some further international experience. Ireland’s captain Rory Best touched down for his 9th International try when Ireland drove from a successfully won line out. Carbery, just minutes on the field at that stage, added the extra two points for a 42-0 score line.
The latter stage of the second half was very much a different affair, however. The use of replacements probably unsettled matters, but the final 25 minutes of this Round 2 encounter saw the home side concede three tries, scores which may prove crucial if the winning of the championship this season comes down to points scored/conceded.
Fly half Tommaso Allan was the first to get in on the Italian try-scoring act when he put their first points on the board with his try in the 56th minute. He duly converted his own five-pointer to leave a score line of Ireland 42 Italy 7, with 22 minutes left to play.
Edoardo Gori scored his side’s second try on 66 minutes, once the referee Romain Poite had confirmation from the TMO that a pass had not gone forward in the movement leading to the score. Allan achieved his second successful conversion, for 49-14.
Matteo Minozzi was Italy’s third try scorer, following poor defending from the Irish side. The Irish Head Coach must have looked on in horror as the Italian sliced through the home side’s defence. Allan would fail to convert the try, leaving the Italians on 19 points for the afternoon.
In between the Azzuri’s hat-trick of tries scored, Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale claimed a brace of his own, his 5th and 6th tries respectively in his last 6 games. His first five-pointer was made easier by Joey Carbery sucking some Italian defenders in, allowing Stockdale to bring the Irish scoring total to 49 points. A brilliant individual effort from the Lisburn man saw him back himself down the touch line, sprinting clear, and jinking past Italian defenders for an excellent individual score. Carbery kicked the conversion to ensure all eight Irish tries scored on the day were converted.
Overall, Ireland’s management must be satisfied with the bonus point, keeping the side in the running for this year’s NatWest 6 Nations title. Ireland has now got two wins from two and nine points achieved, leading the table by a points difference of two, from England. At what cost though has the Italian victory come with Furlong and Henshaw both likely to be on the sideline for the remainder of the championship, with bigger guns than Italy to come – Wales next in two week’s time.
Final score: Ireland 56 Italy 19.