Dan Sheehan scores two of Ireland's six tries in Dublin as they brush aside the Azzurri to go top of the Six Nations table and stay on course for another Grand Slam
A sellout crowd at the Aviva Stadium saw Ireland breeze to a 36-0 victory over Italy. They took a little while to hit their straps but ultimately Ireland’s much-changed side eased home with a huge amount to spare. Six tries was the reward for a display less spectacular than the one that did for France but highly accomplished nevertheless.
It marked a satisfactory start for Caelan Doris, captaining Ireland for the first time. Already he should be deemed a leading contender for the Lions Test captaincy in Australia next year.
And Ireland’s record march goes on: a 17th consecutive home win, a tenth consecutive Six Nations win. Defeat Wales on 24 February and they will equal England’s record for the most successive Six Nations wins, set from 2015-17.
“We got what we wanted, we’re happy enough,” said Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. “Keeping them to zero is very pleasing. There were some nice tries, some nice individual performances. We were a bit clunky in places.”
We had wondered whether Jack Crowley would build on his excellence in Marseille. And the answer was an emphatic yes.
The 24-year-old stand-off was first to strike, gliding over for his first senior try – for Munster or Ireland – after getting on the shoulder of Craig Casey after seven minutes.
His no-look pass for Hugh Keenan in midfield was exquisite and moments later he slipped an offload to Robbie Henshaw, who put Dan Sheehan in down the left. The hooker almost fluffed the chance by running unnecessarily into Ange Capuozzo but he got the ball down.
Italy, without their two chief ball-carriers in Seb Negri and Lorenzo Cannone, didn’t buckle. But the strain was starting to show, particularly in the scrum where Finlay Bealham got on top of Danilo Fischetti. “I thought our scrum was Man of the Match,” said Farrell.
Charged-down box kicks and handling errors were another problem for the Azzurri. They never looked like scoring in the 80 minutes, their biggest threat a searing run by Capuozzo which saw Casey make a timely tackle.
No 8 Jack Conan got Ireland’s third, from a one-out pass near the line. With Crowley’s extras, Ireland turned round 19-0 to the good.
Ireland weren’t long in extending their lead, Sheehan bagging the bonus-point try from a driving maul that was defended rather weakly. Stephen Varney denied Sheehan a hat-trick with a sharp bit of cover work, then Henshaw had a try disallowed for a double movement.
Tommaso Menoncello went to the sin-bin for tripping James Lowe, who scored Ireland’s fifth try with a typically powerful surge down the left flank. The Leinster winger was later named as Man of the Match.
Both teams rung the changes, Crowley moving to full-back to give Harry Byrne a run at ten. There was a first Italy cap for Exeter’s Ross Vintcent off the bench.
The game became a little loose and disjointed, as can happen when the subs flood on. But there was time for a final Ireland score as Crowley, stepping in at first receiver once more, set his back-line in motion and Calvin Nash got over in the corner.
The result slightly exceeded Ireland’s average winning margin of 29 points against Italy in Dublin. And for good measure, they kept Italy scoreless for the first time.
So it’s two down, three to go for the defending champions as they chase back-to-back Grand Slams. Most people expect them to achieve it.
Ireland Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham, Joe McCarthy, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris (capt), Jack Conan.
Replacements 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Italy Ange Capuozzo; Lorenzo Pani, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Alessandro Izekor, Manuel Zuliani, Michele Lamaro (capt).
Replacements 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Ross Vintcent, 21 Martin Page-Relo, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori.