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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 3 December 2020
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Debutants impress as Ireland secure bonus-point win to keep Six Nations hopes alive

Andy Farrell’s men scored seven tries in a 50-17 win over Italy in Dublin.

Ireland 50

Italy 17

AND SO, IRELAND head to Paris with their Six Nations title hopes alive.

It may well take a bonus-point win at Stade de France next weekend – indeed, such a result would guarantee Ireland the trophy – but this seven-try victory over Italy ensures Andy Farrell’s are in the hunt.

hugo-keenan-celebrates-scoring-his-first-try-on-his-first-international-cap-with-conor-murray-and-jacob-stockdale Ireland scored seven tries in Dublin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

England will back themselves to rack up a score against Italy and secure the title if Ireland can’t do a job on les Bleus, but Farrell’s men can take next week’s flight with ambitions of earning what had seemed, earlier this year, an unlikely championship success.

Of course, they will face a far greater challenge than they did here against Franco Smith’s Italy, who were second best against an Ireland team that showed glimpses of the attacking progress they are so keen to make under Farrell but were sloppy in some spells.

Leinster wing Hugo Keenan had a dream debut as he scored two first-half tries and looked sharp whenever involved, while openside flanker Will Connors also scored a five-pointer as he shone on his first Test cap, earning the man of the match award.

Ireland came through a first-half yellow card for scrum-half Conor Murray – who was good otherwise – to lead 24-3 at the break and got over a poor spell early in the second to secure the bonus-point win with a 33-point winning margin, exceeding the bookies’ pre-match verdict in doing so.

Keenan’s second try and a second-half effort finished by captain Johnny Sexton were the pick of the bunch for Ireland, who also had some excellent moments in defence.

will-connors-makes-a-pass Will Connors was man of the match for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Connors leading the way with his superb tackling, there were numerous turnovers from the jackal crew of CJ Stander, the brilliant Tadhg Beirne, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, and Connors himself. Farrell will have enjoyed the breakdown bite Ireland brought.

Their set-piece generally functioned well, the Irish kicking game had some strong moments – particularly in exiting – and the shape that attack coach Mike Catt is implementing caused Italy problems in intermittent bursts. 

There was one obvious injury concern as Ireland lost outside centre Garry Ringrose to a head injury in the first half. He passed his HIA but remained on the sidelines due to a suspected facial injury, Robbie Henshaw comfortably slotting into the team in his place.

There were further Ireland debuts off the bench for scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and loosehead prop Ed Byrne, although the game concluded in frustrating fashion as Ireland conceded a second try to the Italians with the last act. 

cj-stander-scores-the-opening-try CJ Stander crosses for Ireland's first try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland had a disastrous start as Italy back row Sebastian Negri broke in between Stander and Sexton before passing inside to Marcello Violi. The scrum-half was hauled down but Murray failed to roll away and was promptly sin-binned by referee Matthew Carley, with debutant 20-year-old out-half Paolo Garbisi slotting the three points.

However, 14-man Ireland responded strongly as Herring led a choke tackle turnover in the Italy 22 and Garry Ringrose then impressively stepped in at scrum-half, sniping twice in the lead-up to Stander barrelling through two Italian tackles to score from close-range.

Sexton converted and soon added a penalty for 10-3 just as Murray returned. 

Ireland’s defensive breakdown was becoming dominant although Farrell’s men had some scrappy moments in Italian territory, including one knock-on at the back of a maul just 10 metres out form the tryline.

There was a harsh penalty against Bundee Aki for failing to wrap in a tackle but Ireland’s destructive defensive was undeterred and a brilliant chase from debutants Keenan and Connors helped them to win another penalty to kick into the right corner after half an hour.

The Irish maul worked infield and then first receiver Aki gave Henshaw – on for Ringrose in midfield – time to pick out a long right-to-left skip pass wide to Keenan, who stepped inside Jayden Hayward and finished through Edoardo Padovani’s tackle attempt.

hugo-keenan-celebrates-scoring-his-first-try-on-his-first-international-cap-with-conor-murray-and-jacob-stockdale Ireland celebrate Hugo Keenan's second try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton converted well from out wide and Ireland thought they had a third try within a minute of the restart as Stockdale counter-attacked from inside his own half, breaking the Italian defence and putting Keenan away down the left.

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Upon TMO review, Carley decided that James Ryan had blocked Marco Lazzaroni from making a tackle attempt on Stockdale and it was chalked off.

But Ireland Keenan had his second before the break as Ireland’s defence muscled up strongly again, Connors and Doris combining for a turnover in their 22 that resulted in the blindside flanker surging upfield and passing to Murray. The scrum-half assessed his options on the move and intelligently struck a long, accurate grubber kick into the left corner for the rapid Keenan to chase, regather, and finish.

Sexton’s conversion left Ireland 24-3 to the good at the interval but it was disappointing for Farrell and co. to see their men start poorly in the second half, a forced tip-on pass from Stander to Ryan leading to an Italy turnover, Stockdale dropping a high ball, then Porter and Healy giving away a sloppy penalties.

The dire 15-minute spell was concluded by Sexton’s long pass to the left off a scrum attack being intercepted by Padovani, who had a clear run to the Irish tryline from halfway, with Garbisi converting the try for 24-10.

It was a half-break by Sexton that finally grabbed some momentum back for Ireland, helping them to win a penalty that the captain kicked down the left, where Italy infringed again and Sexton stuck the second penalty into the corner.

bundee-aki-scores-a-try Bundee Aki scores for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

After Doris won the lineout, the Irish maul proved unstoppable from five metres out and it was Connors who dotted down at the tail of it for the bonus point, allowing Sexton to convert for 31-10.

Ireland’s fifth was a sweeping effort as Henshaw broke out on the left to link with Keenan and the charging Stander before Ireland recycled infield and Sexton was able to burst in between a pair of would-be tacklers to finish.

Aki then produced a stunning effort in the 69th minute as Beirne won a turnover and the ball was offloaded beautifully by Peter O’Mahony – just on in the back row – for the inside centre to step past Hayward on his run to the tryline.

Replacement hooker Dave Heffernan scored his first Test try as he won his second cap over three years on from his first, dotting down at the back of a maul late on with sub out-half Ross Byrne drop-kicking the conversion.

Frustratingly, Ireland gave up seven points of their possible winning margin as Italy out-half Garbisi scythed through to score and convert his own try with the last act of the game.  

Ireland scorers:

Tries: CJ Stander, Hugo Keenan [2], Will Connors, Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [5 from 6], Ross Byrne [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [1 from 1]

Italy scorers:

Tries: Edoardo Padovani, Paolo Garbisi

Conversions: Paolo Garbisi [2 from 2]

Penalties: Paolo Garbisi [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Jacob Stockdale; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose (Robbie Henshaw ’28), Bundee Aki, Hugo Keenan; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’71), Conor Murray (yellow card ’3) (Jamison Gibson-Park ’67); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’57), Rob Herring (Dave Heffernan ’51), Andrew Porter (Finlay Bealham ’63); Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan (Ultan Dillane ’63); Caelan Doris (Peter O’Mahony ’67), Will Connors, CJ Stander. 

ITALY: Jayden Hayward; Edoardo Padovani, Luca Morisi (Federico Mori ’54), Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini; Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi (Callum Braley ’73); Danilo Fischetti (Simone Ferrari ’47), Luca Bigi (captain) (Gianmarco Lucchesi ’47), Giosue Zilocchi (Pietro Ceccarelli ’47); Marco Lazzaroni (Johan Meyer ’63), Niccolo Cannone (David Sisi ’47); Sebastian Negri (Maxime Mbanda ’67), Abraham Steyn, Jake Polledri.

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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