Ireland overpowered Italy to record a bonus point win and take control of the Six Nations, setting up a Super Saturday finish next weekend in this prolonged competition.
|Sat 31st Oct||RD5||Wales||Scotland||14:15||BBC Sport|
|Sat 31st Oct||RD5||Italy||England||16:45||ITV Sport|
|Sat 31st Oct||RD5||France||Ireland||20:10||BBC Sport|
There was a feeling that this was a hit out in preparation for something bigger. Both sides are rebuilding and both got something useful out of it. Whether or not it was a tough enough test for Ireland, we’ll find out next week.
Starting debutants, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors certainly ticked all the boxes with Keenan bagging a brace and Connors adding PotM to a debut try. Jacob Stockdale’s reversion to full back, where he played extensively in the Ireland U20 set up, was fairly seamless but it wasn’t a match that produced many, if any, intense “white hot heat of the game” moments.
After Keenan bagged his brace and Stockdale countered an early fumble, with a couple of strong line breaks, I found my attention drifting from the game in the second half though I did let out a yelp and clap my hands when Paolo Garbisi dummied the Irish back line and waltzed through for the final score of the game.
Garbisi’s performance was Italy’s big gain out of the game and the 20 year old opened Ireland’s defence in the 2nd minute, sending Jake Polledri through in midfield. Marco Violi took on the charge and looked try bound before Ireland’s scrambling defence snagged him just short of the line. In the resulting melee Conor Murray was adjudged off side, and yellow carded and Garbisi stepped up to knock over the resulting penalty to give Italy a 0 – 3 lead.
The visitors weren’t able to take advantage of their extra man and minutes later a turnover, from a choke tackle by Rob Herring, led to CJ Stander going over for Ireland’s opening try. Johnny Sexton added the conversion and, shortly after, knocked over a penalty to give Ireland a 10 – 3 lead.
Italy will be disappointed that the didn’t make more of the possession they had in the first quarter. However Ireland were starting to get an edge at the rucks completing 14 turnovers to Itlay’s 4 throughout the match.
It was a turnover that lead to Keenan’s first try on the 29th minute after temporary replacement Robbie Henshaw found him out wide with a spiraling pass. In a busy few minutes, Keenan had a second attempt disallowed, after a bustling run by Stockdale set him clear, the move called back after an obstruction infringement by James Ryan, before bagging his second try on the 35th minute after chasing down a grubber.
Sexton converted both to give Ireland a 24 – 3 lead at the break.
Italy found some bouyany at the start of the second half with winger Edoardo Padovani intercepting a pass off Sexton to sprint home from some distance out. Garbisi knocked over the conversion to take the score to 24 – 10 after 55 minutes.
It’s a measure of the competitiveness of the game that Ireland were able to respond at “Will” with Connors mauling the bonus point try shortly after to cap a fine performance.
Only pausing for substitutions and minor readjustments the Ireland side rolled on with with Sexton, Bundee Aki and, replacement, Dave Heffernan all crossing as the game petered out. Sexton and, replacement, Ross Byrne each adding a conversion to take Ireland’s total to 50 points.
With an eye on next weekend Ireland kept the ball alive after full time, as they searched for more points, but it was Italy that reaped the benefit with a turnover giving Garbisi the chance to style it out with the final score of the game.
Final score: Ireland 50 Italy 17
The result leaves the Six Nations table looking good from an Irish perspective.
After the cancellation of their warm up game against the Barbarians an undercooked England may struggle to bag the necessary points against Italy but France proved last night, in their win against Wales, that Ireland have their work cut out to bag any sort of win in Paris.