Ireland v Italy: Andy Farrell’s team tick the boxes in Rugby World Cup warm-up win

Caelan Doris stars with two tries while three players earn their first caps at the Aviva Stadium

Ireland 33 Italy 17

Although Ireland lost their way a little at times, especially after cruising into a 21-3 interval lead, this was a satisfactory enough first hit-out.

They achieved the primary point of the exercise, namely to win fairly convincingly, afford game time to 23 of their 42-man World Cup training squad – including three debutants – and seemingly, touch wood, avoid injuries.

Jack Conan did depart in the first half after taking some punishment for a couple of deft and delayed passes, but although he could be seen with a protective moon boot, he had given a thumbs up to team-mates as well as handshakes.

This was in stark contrast to the Italians. Their fine Saracens prop Marco Riccioni was also helped off in the first period, as was debutant Paolo Odogwu, who looked a little out of place on the wing. But most off all, gifted young centre Tommaso Menoncello walked off late on in a distraught state, having seemingly injured his shoulder.

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The Irish performance was founded in large part on the quality of their set pieces, although they twice failed to convert attacking lineouts after opting to kick penalties to the corner, and their battery of big carriers.

Caelan Doris took to his first Test in the ‘7′ jersey like the proverbial duck to water; carrying and tackling like a wrecking ball while also coming up with big plays and nice touches, and varnishing the win with two tries and a huge hand in another.

Iain Henderson also looked in prime nick, he and Joe McCarthy making some thunderous carries, while Conan also looked very sharp before he departed.

Craig Casey had a typically lively game at the base while alongside him Jack Crowley oozed composure and class with his passing, kicking and running range, before fairly seamlessly moving to fullback after Ciarán Frawley replaced Jimmy O’Brien, who had also stepped in as a playmaker, at half-time.

Having forced Italy to make three times as many tackles in a relatively well-oiled first period, 122 compared to 39, Ireland were more error prone and less fluid in the second half. This was by no means Frawley’s fault, for he didn’t seem to have as many options as Crowley had, but Ireland did seem to lose something with the switch.

Like their team-mates, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls both looked to have pre-seasoned well and appeared in prime nick. They also strained every sinew, Stockdale making one brilliant carry and running hard, but his missed tackle for the first try by an admittedly much improved Italy was an unwanted highlight reel.

Earls, after switching to midfield, will also have been disappointed with his missed tackle for Italy’s second try.

Toa Halafihi (Benetton) was a late withdrawal due to a stomach bug, although the Azzurri were only strengthened by the promotion of the dynamic Lorenzo Cannone to his customary number eight jersey.

They drew first blood from the kick-off when Giacomo Nicotera and Menoncello held up Conan and Tommaso Allan knocked over the ensuing scrum penalty. That said, it was surprising that Italy didn’t show more ambition.

Irish offloads didn’t stick and the Italians were pushing up and tackling hard, typified by a meaty double hit on Stuart McCloskey by Cannone and Riccioni, although worryingly for Kieran Crowley the Saracens prop was helped off soon after with an apparent leg injury.

Ireland wasted one chance when Henderson knocked in attempting an offload after Casey pilfered loose Italian ruck ball, and another when Casey went blind off a close-range ruck to Stockdale, albeit with a penalty advantage.

After Rob Herring’s tap, David Kilcoyne burrowed over, with considerable help from Doris, but for which it would have been a tough finish.

They might have had another but for Monty Ioane just beating O’Brien to the touchdown from Earls’s grubber after a couple of high takes in quick succession by Stockdale off box kicks by each scrumhalf – the second on the run in chasing Casey’s up-and-under was stunning.

Ireland again played with some nice width and shape, featuring one sumptuous floated pass by Crowley to O’Brien on the right touchline. And when Casey’s quick tap drew a premature tackle and yellow card for Danilo Fischetti, who departed in a decided strop, Ireland converted the second of three penalties to the corner in the first half for a try.

Doris was the deserving scorer when peeling around to the front and was driven over by Conan and Herring, although he didn’t require any assistance as all the Italian pack had been sucked in to the drive.

The third try of the half arrived when McCloskey’s strong tackle on Cannone was backed up by Doris pouring through on an unprotected Stephen Varney and bouncing to his feet to counter-ruck. Andy Farrell and Paul O’Connell would also have loved the way Henderson reacted sharply in ensuring the turnover by adding his oomph to the counter-ruck, with McCloskey picking up and finishing alertly.

Whether by design or not, Frawley was the first of the three debutants off the bench to be employed when brought on at half-time in place of O’Brien, with Crowley switching to fullback.

Crowley responded with a couple of fine tackles on the left touchline but this was also evidence of Italy’s much improved display after the interval with the 21-year-old Lorenzo Pani, who made his Test debut a week previously, an upgrade on the out of position Odogwu. Indeed, the replacement provided a fleet-footed finish after the Italians narrowed the Irish defence when Menoncello pulled the ball back for Allan to hit Pani, who fended the upright Stockdale a mite too easily.

Ireland responded by introducing their replacement frontrow and cranking up the pressure. Opting for the corner, they were rewarded when the remarkable Cian Healy muscled over from close range in trademark style for his 12th try in 124 Tests.

Even then though, the Azzurri responded strongly. Also opting for the corner, their maul was held up but they went through the phases for Menoncello to steam on to Juan Igancio Brex’s pass and plough through the tackle of Earls, now in midfield, to score.

Ireland did finally find some high tempo attacking rhythm as Frawley linked with Crowley and Earls to give Stockdale a run, and Cian Prendergast gave the move some real impetus by steaming on to a deft short pass from Doris and offloading one-handed for Calvin Nash to carry close to the line.

A few phases later, Doris latched on to a loose pass to score his second try but, sadly, the abiding memory of the end game was the sight of Menoncello departing in tears.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Allan pen 0-3; 13: Kilcoyne try, Crowley con 7-3; 29: Doris try, Crowley con 14-3; 36: McCloskey try, Crowley con 21-3; (half-time 21-3); 51: Pani try, Allan con 21-10; 65: Healy try 26-10; 69: Menoncello try, Allan con 26-17; 73: Doris try, Frawley con 33-17.

IRELAND: Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Rob Herring (Ulster, Tom O’Toole (Ulster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), Joe McCarthy (Leinster); Ryan Baird (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).

Replacements: Cian Prendergast (Connacht) for Conan (36 mins), Ciarán Frawley (Leinster) for O’Brien (h-t), Caolin Blade (Connacht) for Casey (45), Tom Stewart (Ulster) for Herring, Cian Healy (Leinster) for Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong (Leinster) for O’Toole (all 52), Tadhg Beirne (Munster) for Henderson (56), Calvin Nash (Munster) for Henshaw (62).

ITALY: Tommaso Allan (Perpignan); Paolo Odogwu (Benetton), Juan Ignacio Brex (Benetton), Tommaso Menoncello (Benetton), Montanna Ioane (Lyon); Paolo Garbisi (Montpellier), Stephen Varney (Gloucester); Danilo Fischetti (Zebre), Giacomo Nicotera (Benetton), Marco Riccioni (Saracens); Dino Lamb (Harlequins), Federico Ruzza (Benetton, capt); Sebastian Negri (Benetton), Manuel Zuliani (Benetton), Lorenzo Cannone (Benetton),

Replacements: Simone Ferrari (Benetton) for Riccioni (10 mins), Lorenzo Pani (Zebre) for Odogwu (23), Michele Lamaro (Benetton), for Zuliani (40+1), Alessandro Fusco (Zebre) for Varney (h-t), Niccolo Cannone (Benetton) for Lamb (46), Luca Bigi (Zebre) for Nicotera (56), Paolo Buonfiglio (Zebre) for Fischetti (60), Giovanni Pettinelli (Benetton) for Negri (74),

Sinbinned: Fischetti (28-38 mins).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times