Ireland breaks duck against hapless Azzurri
SIX NATIONS MATCH REPORT: Ireland got their first win this campaign with a 48-10 victory over Italy as the hosts fell to their 30th consecutive defeat in the tournament.
Tries from Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors lifted the Irish 27-10 at half-time.
And CJ Stander, Connors, Keith Earls added three more after the break for a bonus-point win for the Irish who had lost their opening two games against France and Wales.
Captain Johnny Sexton marked his return with 18 points on the day in the Stadio Olimpico.
“Thankfully we got victory we were desperate for,” said Sexton.
“Some brilliant stuff, especially in the first half, I thought we were outstanding.
“It doesn’t mean we’re fixed, we have to keep improving, it’s a massive test in Murrayfield [against Scotland] and six-day turnaround and then against England.”
The Italians had started brightly with fly-half Paolo Garbisi scoring first with an opening penalty.
Johan Meyer had revived Azzurri hopes just before the break with a try which Garbisi converted for their only points of the day.
Italy’s six-year drought continued as Franco Smith’s side are without a win in the tournament since beating Scotland in Murrayfield back in 2015.
The Azzurri have not beaten Ireland since 2013 with Irish trio Iain Henderson, Dave Kilcoyne and Cian Healy the only survivors of that clash on duty on Saturday.
“Today [Saturday] we weren’t at the same level as Ireland,” admitted Smith whose side have conceded 139 points and 19 tries in their last three matches.
“It’s really hard. All of Italy is waiting for a win, and we’re fighting all the time to give them one.”
Ireland coach Andy Farrell had made seven changes, experimenting with an all-new front row after a 15-13 defeat to the French and 21-16 loss to Wales with an all-Leinster backline.
Smith was forced to make a last-minute Italy shuffle from his unchanged side which had shown some signs of life in a 41-18 defeat to England, with scrum-half Callum Braley replacing Stephen Varney.
Sexton returned after recovering from a head knock to make his 50th Six Nations appearance with Robbie Henshaw taking to the field first to mark his 50th cap.
Flyhalf Garbisi, 20, scored first as he had done on his senior debut against the Irish in Dublin last October.
But the hosts failed to make the most of their early pressure and Sexton replied with a penalty two minutes later.
The Italians staved off a series of Irish drives at the line before Jamison Gibson-Park sent it to the backs and Ringrose went over for his ninth try in 33rd test.
Sexton converted and the Italians’ defence paid for ill-discipline conceding 10 points in a five-minute spell.
Ringrose set up Keenan who burst through to touch down after half an hour for his fourth try in his ninth test, having scored two on his debut against Italy in October.
Connors added a third six minutes later receiving an offload from Jordan Larmour with Sexton again converting.
Meyer threw Italy a lifeline after Ireland paid for poor defending with Garbisi sending through for the South African-born flank.
Stander extended the Irish advantage and looked to have scored a second try after the hour but it was ruled out following a knock-on from Kelleher on the ground.
But Connors went over five minutes later for his third international try.
Scrumhalf Craig Casey and lock Ryan Baird, both 21, both came off the bench after an hour for their first Ireland caps.
Italy were then hit by captain Luca Bigi picking up a yellow card as the Irish pushed forward.
James Lowe went over following a Casey short pass which was ruled to have been forward.
Casey and Sexton then combined to set up Earls to touch down in the corner with Sexton capping the rout with the conversion before the final whistle.
“I’m really proud of the players, they’ve shown real character over the last couple of weeks, not nice coming off two losses and trying to put that right,” said Farrell.
“Our attitude was top class, we played the game with the right respect. Punched away in the first half and the game opened up in the end.”
“Now we dust ourselves down and prepare as best we can for Murrayfield.”
Tries: Ringrose, Keenan, Connors (2), Stander, Lowe
Cons: Sexton 6
Pens: Sexton 2
Yellow cards: Giosue Zilocchi (Italy, 59), Luca Bigi (Italy, 64)
Italy: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Federico Mori, 23 Mattia Bellini.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tadhg Beirne, 6 Will Connors, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Keith Earls.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Romain Poite (France)