Ireland’s Jack Crowley offloads in the tackle of Alessandro Izekor and Paolo Garbisi of Italy. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
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Crowley backs up Marseille with another impressive attacking display

The out-half marked a fine day’s work with his first try in senior rugby.

AS FAR AS Six Nations afternoons go, yesterday was about stress-free as it gets for Ireland.

Despite making 11 changes to the matchday 23 which stormed to victory in Marseille a week previously, a freshened-up Ireland team ironed out some early issues to coast past Italy, running in six tries across an utterly dominant 36-0 bonus-point win.

There were times when Ireland looked a little off-colour – rushing decisions and trying to force things in the Italy 22 – but when Andy Farrell’s side hit their stride they played some scintillating rugby.

The tireless Hugo Keenan delivered another superb performance before being forced off with a knee injury after 55 minutes – the only real concern of the day – while Ryan Baird and Stuart McCloskey both made big impacts on their return to the team. 

At the heart of it all was out-half Jack Crowley, who backed up his display in France last weekend with another assured, commanding outing, shifting from out-half to full-back when Keenan was substituted. 

andy-farrell-with-his-grandson-tommy Andy Farrell with his grandson Tommy after the game. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Munster player will kick himself for sending three conversions wide of the target but in open play he ran the team superbly.

The 24-year-old was ambitious at the line – throwing three offloads – and his handling for both his opening try and Dan Sheehan’s first-half score was met with awe-struck reactions when replayed on the big screens inside the stadium.

Remarkably, Ireland’s opening score was Crowley’s first try in senior rugby. For a player tasked with filling Johnny Sexton’s boots, he’s wearing the responsibility lightly.

“That was an unbelievable try, to offload the ball from the floor – quick ball from Craig [Casey], nice feel coming around the corner and Jack to get a touch just after he’d presented the ball was a special try for him,” said Farrell.

I thought he started the game really well, I thought he played really well at No 10. When he played at No 15, he crept a bit wider and a few errors crept in but we’ll work on that as well.

“To put a performance like that, I thought we were clinical at times. Our set piece was excellent, top drawer.

“Then scoring some nice tries off the back of all that type of pressure was very pleasing to get over the line. Two from two. It’s decent start. It gets tougher from here on in.”

The Ireland boss was clearly satisfied with the performance but admitted there were times where he would have liked to see his players make better decisions on the pitch.

I’m probably harsh enough there but that’s how I want to be. I think sometimes that when you get your nose in front and then you make a few changes the balance of the team is a little bit different feel.

“Sometimes you get a little bit too desperate instead of just boxing away with the stuff that we were doing and doing so well – creeping a little bit with a forward pass or falling on the backs as far as the breakdown’s concerned and giving them an opportunity so a few bits like, but the pleasing thing and it’s pleasing for quite some time now, is we’re about to get over those type of setbacks and get on with the job in hand.”

Ireland now head into a break week with their next outing a home meeting with Wales on 24 February.

Keenan was the only fresh injury concern from the day, while Farrell hopes Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose will all be back in training this week.

caelan-doris-with-his-family-after-the-game Doris with his family after the game. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Hugo’s got a bang on his knee so I don’t know. He seems in good spirits but you saw him and he was limping so we’ll see how he turns up tomorrow morning whether he needs someone to have a look at that or not, I don’t know at this stage.” 

Sunday’s game also saw Caelan Doris captain Ireland for the first time.

“Special and knowing the group we have makes it all the more special,” said Doris.

We’re a very tight-knit group, this group has largely been together for the guts of four years plus now.

“The relationships we have are special, and the environment that Faz and Gary and all the coaches have set about being ourselves and being vulnerable makes my job easier and made it easier this week.

“I leaned heavily on the other lads as well and from a personal point of view, I hope all the people who have been involved from Ballina, the whole way to Blackrock, all the way, take a little bit of pride from this and from seeing me captain the country today, so I’m delighted with it.”

Doris added that the responsibility of captaining the team brought extra pressures on the day.

“Definitely, yeah. Definitely more nerves than usual. I got to a point where I’m usually fairly calm on game day and looking forward to it but yeah, more nerves today for sure.”

Farrell, sitting beside him, interjected: “And by the way, Pete [O'Mahony] was shitting himself last week as well.”

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