Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ireland too strong for Italy in bonus-point win

Must read

Ireland wing James Lowe scored the pick of the tries with a superb finish in the second half
Ireland: (19) 36
Tries: Crowley, Sheehan 2, Conan, Lowe, Nash Cons: Crowley 2, Byrne
Italy: (0) 0

Ireland maintained their push for successive Six Nations Grand Slams with a comfortable, if sometimes scrappy, bonus-point win over Italy in Dublin.

First-half tries from Jack Crowley, Dan Sheehan and Jack Conan put the Irish 19-0 up at half-time.

Sheehan added his second to give Ireland the bonus point before Robbie Henshaw had a score ruled out.

But James Lowe scored the pick of the tries before Calvin Nash capped Ireland’s win late on.

While this Irish performance will not live long in the memory, it maintains their momentum going into a rest week before hosting Wales on 24 February as they bid to become the first side since France in 1998 to win back-to-back Grand Slams.

For Italy, it is another dispiriting visit to Dublin and a hugely disappointing performance after giving England a scare in their opening match in Rome last week.

Ireland on top at the break after scrappy half

Having secured one of their greatest Six Nations wins over France in Marseille last week, Ireland were fancied to sweep past the Italians with little fuss in their first home match since the World Cup.

And even with six changes to the side that started the win over France – some of which were injury enforced – the hosts, captained by Caelan Doris for the first time, proved too strong for the Italians as the reigning champions registered a 17th successive home win.

Going into Sunday’s game, Ireland had scored 50 points in each of their last four home Six Nations wins over Italy, but they were not fluent enough to tear the Azzurri apart during a scrappy first half.

After Paolo Garbisi’s early missed penalty, Ireland struck with their first meaningful venture into Italian territory when a move started by the excellent Hugo Keenan – who later went off injured – was finished by Crowley for the fly-half’s first senior try.

The next 15 minutes were scrappy, disjointed and not overly entertaining. Italy enjoyed their fair share of possession but were not clinical enough.

Ireland’s kicking game was a little erratic, but despite letting errors creep into their game, they moved further clear when Sheehan struck again after his score in Marseille last week.

Crowley sent Henshaw clear with a clever offload. Henshaw found his midfield partner Stuart McCloskey, who teed up Sheehan for the Leinster hooker’s first of the afternoon.

The third Irish try was down to the forwards, with Conan touching the ball down from close range after a catch and drive pushed Ireland close to the Italian line. An increasingly confident Crowley drilled superb conversions for the second and third tries after misjudging his first.

Calvin Nash takes on the Italian defence
Calvin Nash scored again after opening his Test account against France

While it took Ireland a while to get going in the first half, Italy offered little during the opening stages of the second period. The Irish duly capitalised, with Sheehan crossing after another driving maul to give the hosts the bonus point.

A few moments later, a matter of inches denied Sheehan his hat-trick as he popped up on the left wing. Having kept the move alive, Ireland did get over the line through Henshaw but the celebrations were cut short when it was ruled out for a double movement.

Italy’s problems mounted when centre Tommaso Menoncello was yellow-carded for tripping a charging Lowe just before the hour mark.

It failed to faze Lowe, though, as the Ireland wing dusted himself down to score the pick of the Irish tries with a magnificent demonstration of speed and power driving him over the line despite the presence of three Italian players on the line.

There was still time for a sixth Irish score as Nash crossed late on.

There was confusion in the closing seconds as Jamison Gibson-Park thought he had registered a seventh Irish try right on the cusp of full-time only for it to be ruled out.

It prompted wry smiles and celebrations as the holders extended their winning run in the tournament to 11 stretching back to 2022, with stiffer challenges undoubtedly on the horizon as they chase a historic second straight Slam.

Line-ups

Ireland: Keenan; Nash, Henshaw, McCloskey, Lowe; Crowley, Casey; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham, McCarthy, Ryan, Baird, Doris (capt), Conan.

Replacements: Kelleher, Loughman, O’Toole, Henderson, Van der Flier, Gibson-Park, Byrne, Larmour.

Italy: Capuozzo; Pani, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; P Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Lucchesi, Ceccarelli, N Cannone, Ruzza, Izekor, Zuliani, Lamaro (capt).

Replacements: Nicotera, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Zambonin, Vintcent, Page-Relo, Allan, Mori.

Sin-bin: Menoncello (57)

Referee: Luke Pearce (Eng)

TMO: Eric Gauzins (Fra)

Latest article