'Keith Earls has gotten a little bit older, he hasn’t gotten any slower' -- Schmidt

While Sergio Parisse hailed Ireland’s style, the closing 25 minutes presented a few concerns for Joe Schmidt’s men.

Keith Earls try-saving tackle
Keith Earls try-saving tackle
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium

THE FINAL STRETCH was, in theory, to be the ideal opportunity for Ireland to pile on the points against Italy.

Instead, the latter stages of an eight-try 56 – 19 win over Italy will leave something of a sour aftertaste in the mouth of head coach Joe Schmidt.

Aside from the injury concerns over Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong, the Azzurri out-scored Ireland by three tries to two in the final 25 minutes. And they would have turned consolation tries into a consolation bonus point were it not for Keith Earls’ bottomless store of energy to hound down  Mattia Bellini and avoid further damage to the points differential.

“Keith Earls has gotten a little bit older, he hasn’t gotten any slower,” said Schmidt in reference to the wing’s try-saving tackle after Joey Carbery’s intercepted pass.

“I thought his chase-down was sensational. We would have liked to nail that overlap. I think it was two or three players, but they jumped us and did a good job.”

Of course, the negatives at the tail end are all out-weighed by a comprehensive win brought about by Ireland’s insistance on dominating possession and running  from deep. Tries from Henshaw, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Earls ensured the bonus point was in the bag before the interval.

Joe Schmidt with Conor O'Shea Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Injuries though, particularly to Henshaw, played a part in creating a dis-jointed final period.

“I was really happy with how we started,” Schmidt says, “I felt we played with some good width. Most of it was accurate, a few inaccuaracies.

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“We turned the ball over more than we would ahvce planned to, always a risk, scored some really good tries in those 40 minutes and to keep them to nil when, as you saw in second half, they’ve got some very good players.

We’re disappointed with that. A couple of young guys on the wing, Keith had to go to 13, it does mean cohesion does get checked and we got bit passive defensively those last 20 minutes.

“So we’re disappointed with that, but we also see it as a reference point reference point for those newer players to say: ‘here, have a look at the level and get some learnings from it’.”


On the wrong end of the 56-point hiding, Italy captain Sergio Parisse may have balked at the suggestion that Ireland got passive. Instead, he insisted that Schmidt’s side are a more difficult opponent than the reigning champions who put 46 points on them in Rome last weekend.

“I think sincerely that Ireland play much better rugby than England. It’s more difficult to defend,” said Parisse.

“I like the way they play. For me they play very good rugby. I think they play better than England.”

That effusive praise was put to Rory Best, who was among Ireland’s eight try-scorers, however the hooker was wary of getting drawn in to premature build-up for the would-be Grand Slam decider.

Best accepted Parisse’s words as “a nice compliment from a class player” but remained focused on improvements that can be made before the visit of Wales in a fortnight’s time.

“I think it’s always nice get compliment from the opposition captain. We’ll look at this game and see things we can do lot better, especially in the second half,.”

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Sean Farrell

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