Talking points from Ireland v Italy in the 2018 Six Nations
Ireland relied on a miracle moment against France to win in Round One of this year’s Six Nations, but they needed no such bail-out in their first home game of the tournament. They blew Italy away in the first half and although they eased off in the second, the 56-19 triumph was never in doubt.
Irish tries rained down like confetti, with eight in total. Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale both got two scores and Conor Murray, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls, and Rory Best all crossed the line. It was 28-0 at half-time, but Italy got three scores to their name after the break, with Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori and Matteo Minozzi dotting down.
There will be some concerns behind closed doors with Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw going off with injuries. The tighthead prop hobbled towards the changing rooms after just three minutes and Henshaw went off with his arm in a sling.
After the match, Joe Schmidt confirmed that Henshaw will get a scan on Sunday. And despite Henshaw looking in severe discomfort, Schmidt refused to rule him out of the remainder of the Six Nations. There is some optimism on Furlong, who had a tight hamstring, with Schmidt suggesting that wait-and-see is the plan for next week. Jack Conan was also replaced at half-time, due to a knock, but he is expected to make a swift recovery. There will be more to come on this.
Here is what you should be talking about after this match…
Ireland’s ruthless attack
Ireland had wrapped up the try bonus by the 35th minute. At times in the first half it was brutal to watch, though they were much looser in the second.
Last week, Ireland made zero line-breaks against France. Some would argue that even accidentally almost any team can muster one – we’ve all seen a front five forward trundling into no-man’s land, startled and wondering how they got there. It was totally different today.
A minute in to this one, Ireland’s passing was crisper than the week before, the dummy lines more likely to tie up defenders and the Irish back-row manufactured holes. And here’s the line-break that matters – Henshaw crossed the try-line on the ten-minute mark, something Ireland could not do the week before. He nudged the floodgates open and the tries flowed freely for the rest of the game.
Where is Italy’s canine instinct?
No wolf, no fox, no dog in defence for the Italians. They could not bare their defensive teeth at any point in this run-out. They conceded seven tries at home last week and here they let in eight. They have leaked 15 tries so far this year.
It would be unfair to miss out the fact that they have scored six tries over the two outings and they very nearly scored a length-of-the-field intercept at the death for a fourth here. There are signs of a markedly increased fluency to their attack when opportunities open up. It would also be worth pointing out that they have faced the two most-fancied teams in the tournament to date. And yet the scorelines so far have been too lopsided to be considered moral wins.
They have a week off and then they face France in Marseille – an unusual arena for some, but a hotbed of French rugby where the national side have an attractive history of notable wins. Italy have only ever won two away games in their Six Nations history (both against Scotland) but they must finally snarl in France.
Scrum-half taking lineout
Conor Murray was lifted in, and claimed, a lineout. This is not a drill. Not only was he sneaky in attack – scoring and setting up tries – and linking well while kicking with typical efficiency. He also took on the forwards at their own game. He has form for this. Earlier in the season he took lineout for Munster and scored from it, catching arch rivals Leinster off-guard Leinster.
This time it did not lead to a score and the scrum-half was taken off with half an hour left to go as reward for his efforts. Regardless, you could say Murray did a bit of everything in this one and was rewarded with the Man of the Match title.
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On their way to victory Ireland looked after some of their stars. On 50 minutes both Irish half-backs were taken off for Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery. There were replacements freely made for the rest of the second half. Of course the real worry now is if Ireland will lose one or both of Henshaw and Furlong, longer-term – especially as much tougher tests lie ahead, beginning with Wales next up.
Rest and recovery is the mission next week, but there will also be hope that Ireland have now found their scoring touch for the rest of the tournament. Italy would rather they stopped playing touch in defence.
Jordan Larmour’s debut
It was sad to see Henshaw heading off in a sling after injuring himself in the act of scoring Irelands fifth try – his second. But the excitement levels in the stadium rose after young Jordan Larmour got on for his Ireland debut, taking to the wing with the zippy Earls heading out to outside centre.
Did Larmour set the field alight? Well, no, but the electric Leinster star has now begun his Test adventure. Will we see him play against Wales?