Ireland survive first-half scare in Rome to notch bonus-point win over Italy
Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico, Rome
JOHNNY SEXTON KICKING out in frustration as he left the pitch in the 78th minute after being replaced by debutant Jack Carty said it all.
A deeply frustrating afternoon for Ireland in Rome.
In the end, Joe Schmidt’s men emerged with the bonus-point win that had been widely predicted but this was not a happy outing.
Ireland celebrate Keith Earls’ try in the second half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
A sluggish, error-strewn performance from Ireland left them trailing Conor O’Shea’s Italy 16-12 at the half-time break and though they got over the line for a fourth try through scrum-half Conor Murray, there is mountains of work to do.
Schmidt made four changes to his starting team here and Ireland looked rather rudderless without regular captain Rory Best, as hooker Sean Cronin endured a tough day at the lineout and was called ashore early in the second half.
Murray and his halfback partner, Johnny Sexton, once again struggled to get up to the controlling quality they showed themselves capable of in 2018. Others around them had similar issues as Ireland continually made handling errors and turned the ball over.
The Italians, for their part, were more impressive and competitive than on any occasion since their 2015 World Cup clash with Ireland, deservedly scoring two tries and missing opportunities to do further damage to the visitors.
Ireland’s bonus-point victory leaves them three match points behind Six Nations leaders Wales and still with some hope of winning a championship, although it will take something special over the closing two rounds for Ireland to claim an unlikely title.
Despite the positive elements in this performance, Italy have now lost 20 championship games in a row, the most recent 13 of those under O’Shea, and they missed the chance to grab a first-ever losing bonus in the O’Shea era when replacement Ian McKinley’s late penalty dropped short and wide.
Lock Quinn Roux, left wing Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls – who played almost 70 minutes at outside centre after a head injury for Bundee Aki forced a reshuffle – were the other Irish try-scorers, but Schmidt has plenty of ammunition for a tough video review.
Quinn Roux burst over for a try in the first half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Ireland were in the unfamiliar position of trailing the Italians at the break, and deservedly so after an extremely poor opening 40 minutes that was rife with handling errors, loose passing, lineout failings and a total lack of the cohesion they had aimed for.
Their opening four attacks failed due to the aforementioned shortcomings before they put together an impressive 19-phase passage that ended with Roux crossing to score.
Aki and Dave Kilcoyne carried well in the build-up as Ireland played off Sexton, while Tadhg Furlong’s offload to Roux was followed by an excellent running line by the impressive Chris Farrell to put Ireland within striking distance, Ultan Dillane and Kilcoyne latching onto Roux to help him over for a try converted by Sexton.
At the second time of asking, Italy out-half Tommaso Allan slotted a penalty – Sean O’Brien failing to release from the tackle before attempting a breakdown steal – to bring the Italians onto the scoreboard with a quarter played.
But from the restart, lock Dean Budd misjudged the flight of Sexton’s kick and Michele Campagnaro spilled the ball in attempting to gather, allowing Stockdale to scoop it up 35 metres out and accelerate home for his 14th try in 17 caps.
Sexton couldn’t convert and now the Italians truly came alive, Allan reducing the deficit off the tee with a second penalty, just after it had been confirmed that Aki had failed his HIA and Earls shifted permanently into outside centre, while Andrew Conway came onto the wing.
Jacob Stockdale scored his 14th try in 17 Tests. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
There was more sloppy play from Ireland before lively Italy scrum-half Tito Tebaldi broke on a quick-tap penalty and chipped ahead only to collide with Rob Kearney, who couldn’t exactly disappear. Ireland had been warned but they failed to respond.
Instead, Cronin overthrew a lineout for the second time and Italy thundered at their visitors, fullback Jayden Hayward breaking inside Earls and going past the covering Kearney too easily.
He was hauled down metres short on the left, but after a carry in midfield, Allan calmly floated a skip pass wide right to the unmarked Edoardo Padovani to score. He could have made the conversion easier for Allan, who missed off the tee again.
And there was time for the Italians to take the lead just before the break as Tebaldi picked Murray’s pocket with Ireland attacking inside the home team’s 22, snaffling the ball from his opposite number’s hands to spark the counter.
Tebaldi ignored Padovani on his right to grubber deep into the Ireland 22, where Kearney couldn’t gather under pressure and Conway just managed to halt Allan.
Italy were calm again, with Tebaldi and Hayward swinging long passes out the left, where Maxime Mbanda ignored Luca Morisi in space and was hauled down. Morisi, however, wasn’t going to be denied as he picked and drove through Farrell to score.
Luca Morisi scores for Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Allan couldn’t convert but Italy led 16-12 at the interval.
Ireland’s second-half start didn’t give the travelling support too much confidence as Sexton’s restart failed to go 10 metres and then fullback Kearney knocked-on in an aerial contest.
But captain Peter O’Mahony – who was man of the match – won a crucial turnover penalty in the Ireland 22 and, with Cronin replaced by Niall Scannell, Ireland built a strong attack from a lineout maul, Stockdale breaking on the fringe of it and Schmidt’s men winning a penalty under the posts.
Murray tapped it to keep the tempo up and after strong carrying from the likes of O’Brien and Furlong, Earls switched to the left of a close-range ruck and danced inside Budd and Tebaldi, beating the diving tackle of replacement Alessandro Zanni to dot down Ireland’s third.
Murray took over the kicking duties to convert and send Ireland into a 19-16 lead, but Italy continued to pose danger as Padovani broke down the right and into the Irish 22, only for a wild Tebaldi pass to be knocked-on by Zanni.
Ireland continued to make their own errors, however, with Murray losing the ball forward off the back of a maul in the Italy 22 and Conway spilling it in the air soon after.
Earls produced a searing linebreak off a deft Farrell pass heading into the final quarter but he was hauled down 10 metres out and Stockdale couldn’t hold the Munster man’s offload.
Conor Murray grabbed Ireland’s fourth try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
But Italy couldn’t take their invites back into the game and Ireland secured the bonus point in the 67th minute as – just after Dillane atoned for a knock-on with a strip in the tackle – Schmidt’s men kicked into the left corner.
It took a second bite after Italy stole the first lineout but the Irish maul rumbled forward and Murray finished smartly, converting his own score.
Tries: Edoardo Padovani, Luca Morisi
Conversions: Tommaso Allan [0 from 2]
Penalties: Tommaso Allan [2 from 3], Ian McKinley [0 from 1]
Tries: Quinn Roux, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls, Conor Murray
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 2], Conor Murray [2 from 2]
ITALY: Jayden Hayward; Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro (Tommaso Castello ’73), Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito; Tommaso Allan (Ian McKinley ’74), Tito Tebaldi; Andrea Lovotti (Cherif Traoré ’61), Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), Simone Ferrari (Tiziano Pasquali ’52); Federico Ruzza, Dean Budd; Jimmy Tuivaiti (David Sisi ’52), Maxime Mbandà (Alessandro Zanni ’43), Braam Steyn.
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Guglielmo Palazzani.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki (Andrew Conway ’13), Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (Jack Carty ’78), Conor Murray (John Cooney ’71); Dave Kilcoyne (Jack McGrath ’63), Sean Cronin (Niall Scannell ’48 – reversal ’74), Tadhg Furlong (John Ryan ’63); Ultan Dillane (HIA – Iain Henderson ’32 to ’39), Quinn Roux (Iain Henderson ’58); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Sean O’Brien (Josh van der Flier ’58), Jordi Murphy.
Referee: Glen Jackson [New Zealand].
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