Six Nations Italy 10-63 Ireland: Hat-tricks for Gilroy and Stander help record win
In the old days, the emperor would have called a halt to this one before half-time with a swift thumbs down.
This was no contest as Ireland are back on track in their hunt for a Six Nations title as they responded to their loss to Scotland by securing an nine-try, bonus point win in the Rome sunshine. It was facile stuff.
Joe Schmidt’s side will be pleased with their performance, if perhaps regretful that they didn’t bring the same levels of application to their task last weekend. They can’t have learned much given the paucity of the effort from Conor O’Shea’s men as CJ Stander ran in a hat-trick and Keith Earls bagged a brace.
Perhaps the biggest concern they’ll have is over the fitness of Robbie Henshaw who limped out of the game with half-an-hour remaining and Rob Kearney who left the fray holding his arm. They have two weeks to get fit for France.
Murrayfield will linger, but it is in the past and Ireland can move on to their home game against the French knowing that the six points they’ve collected from their opening two games will stand them in good stead as the tournament progresses.
Schmidt was dealt a blow even before leaving their team hotel in central Rome as captain Rory Best was ruled out of contention having failed to recover from his stomach bug in time.
That meant Munster’s Niall Scannell was handed his debut, with James Tracy coming on to the bench having only arrived in the Italian capital on the eve of the game.
The loss of the skipper must have been a huge concern to Joe Schmidt given how much he felt his players were affected by the team bus being delayed at Murrayfield a week earlier.
Ireland started as if insulted by the idea that they could be so thrown off their game by an insignificant event.
Simon Zebo claimed a Conor Murray box-kick over Edoardo Padovani’s head and while Garry Ringrose subsequently knocked on the powerful scrum earned a penalty and Jamie Heaslip advised Paddy Jackson to go to touch.
Yet their execution wasn’t where it should’ve been, Jackson kicked possession away and after a series of kicks and counters a clumsy obstruction allowed the Italians a chance to exit.
With the scrum under pressure, however, Conor Murray pounced on Sergio Parisse and forced an error. An Angelo Esposito knock-on handed the visiting side a scrum deep in the Italian ’22.
Ireland’s attack was disrupted by a Carlo Canna knock-on allowed Ireland attack again and when Italy went off-side and Cian Healy was stopped short Heaslip turned down a penalty under the posts to take another scrum.
Again, they couldn’t work the score with the Italians living on the edge and conceding a succession of advantages Zebo knocked the ball on over the line.
Back they went for the penalty and again Heaslip took the scrum.
This time the pressure told as the relentless attacking phases finally earned an over-lap and Jackson was able to put Keith Earls over for his 21st international try.
Jackson converted, but a sloppy Conor Murray box-kick from the re-start led to Ireland being penalised for not retreating and Carlo Canna pulled a penalty back for the Italians.
Ireland didn’t let it bother them and when the Italians turned the ball over on their own 10m line the men in green took the opportunity to attack.
A beautiful Heaslip off-load found Robbie Henshaw to put the home side on the back-foot and when Ireland swung wide left after Jackson had forced Parisse into a saving tackle, CJ Stander was able to hand off the last defender to score.
Earls grabbed his second minutes later to move into fourth in the all-time Irish try scorer list as more sloppy play cost the Italians.
A knock-on at the tail of the line afforded Ireland a scrum in the home half and Murray and Jackson worked a reverse move back to Zebo on the blindside and he skinned Edoardo Gordi and surged into the ’22 where his march was halted.
The big men took over with a series of carries, before Rob Kearney put Earls over in the corner.
Jackson converted, but Ireland then had some defending to do as Italy worked their way into the corner and after successive mauls were hauled down illegally referee Glen Jackson awarded a penalty try and handed Donnacha Ryan a yellow card for good measure.
Canna converted but an Italian obstruction under a Jackson bomb allowed the out-half kick to touch in the Italian ’22 where they got their own maul going. It was stopped short, but Murray went to Stander and he bullied his way through a quartet of Italian defenders to score the all-important fourth try.
The second-half continued in the same vein and a brilliant piece of Earls trickery led to Stander’s third try as he latched on to Murray’s pass to scythe through the non-existant defensive line and become the first Irish back-row to score a hat-trick since Brian Robinson against Zimbabwe at the 1991 World Cup.
Ireland lost Robbie Henshaw to injury, but Garry Ringrose almost got their sixth try but was beaten to Jackson’s kick by Luke McLean.
With the result long gone, Italy chased some pride and Gori made yards with a quick tap but their work came undone when Jackson nailed a tired-looking Parisse and dislodged the ball.
As the game petered out, Craig Gilroy got in on the scoring with Ireland’s sixth try as he followed up some strong running from Sean O’Brien by stepping inside Michele Campagnaro and speeding past Canna to score.
Jackson made it 42-10 before Ringrose got his second international try with another throw-back to Brian O’Driscoll as he took a switch-ball from Paddy Jackson, went through a gap to score.
Gilroy grabbed a second try two minutes from time as Stander’s kick bounced badly for Max Mbanda and into the Ulster man’s hands and he ran in under the posts.
And he completed the rout by grabbing a second Irish hat-trick on the final play, running over untouched from Jackson's long pass after excellent build-up play involving Stander and Ultan Dillane.
Jackson nailed his ninth kick out of nine and Ireland left Rome back in business.
ITALY – E Padovani; A Esposito, T Benvenuti (M Campagnaro 49), L McLean, G Venditti; C Canna (T Allan 71), E Gori (G Bronzini 62); A Lovotti (S Panico 64), L Ghiraldini (O Gega 46), L Cittadini (D Chistolini h-t-59); M Fuser, A van Schalkwyk (G Biagi 47); M Mbanda, S Favaro (AJ Steyn 57), S Parisse (capt).
IRELAND – R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (C Gilroy 48), S Zebo (I Keatley 75); P Jackson, C Murray (K Marmion 69); C Healy (J McGrath 51), N Scannell (J Tracy , T Furlong (J Ryan 54); D Toner (U Dillane 60), D Ryan; CJ Stander, S O’Brien (J vd Flier 69), J Heaslip (capt).
Referee: G Jackson (New Zealand)