Injuries take shine off Ireland’s bonus-point win over Italy
Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw in doubt for remainder of Six Nations
Ireland 56 Italy 19
Italian job done again for the sixth year running, and for the third year running it was all fairly facile really. Although they came up one short of the nine tries scored in each of the previous two encounters, Ireland still managed to convert all eight here and had the required bonus point by half-time.
There were three conceded mind, and the win came at a very expensive cost in the loss of Tadhg Furlong, with a hamstring injury, and even more damaging, the suspected dislocated shoulder Robbie Henshaw suffered in scoring his second try of the game. With Garry Ringrose not quite back yet, Chris Farrell looks the likeliest alternative to face Wales in a fortnight’s time.
Either Andrew Porter, who was excellent around the pitch, or John Ryan will presumably deputise for Furlong, who must be a major doubt for that game and perhaps beyond.
Furthermore, Jack Conan, who had a fine first half in the Six Nations, was replaced at half-time along with Iain Henderson with a knock to his shoulder.
In addition to the injuries, and the three tries conceded, following a ruthlessly clinical start, Joe Schmidt will have been infuriated by the way Ireland lost cohesion after the introduction of the bench a tad earlier than normal. That said, he’ll have gleaned more information about his squad than might normally be the case too.
For much of the game this was more akin to a training run, as the Irish pack dominated for virtually the entire 80 minutes, laying on a plentiful supply of possession from their well-oiled set-pieces as well as silver salver service from the much improved breakdown. Porter, replacing Furlong, was strong in the tight and the loose.
Conor Murray had a field day, laying on tries and scoring one himself in a Rolls Royce, man of the match performance. All eight tries were converted, and Schmidt could even afford to remove Murray and Johnny Sexton, and outside them, Bundee Aki and Henshaw, until his injury, enjoyed themselves no end. Aki’s acceleration, footwork and strength caused a porous Italian midfield untold grief, and Jacob Stockdale also chipped in with another two tries. The shackles off, Ireland even indulged themselves with 14 offloads.
As expected, Italy were lightweight up front and lightening quick in the backs, where Tommaso Allan again impressed with his passing range, and the pacy, dancing 21-year-old fullback Matteo Minozzi really does look a find. Defensively though, they were a muddle, and missed 28 tackles in all.
There’s rarely been a louder rendition of Il Canto degli Italiani from the Italian team and their sizeable travelling support, but their fervour was doused virtually from the off, as Ireland ran in three converted tries in the first quarter.
Proof of Conor O’Shea’s ever-changing Azzurri is that Tommaso Benvenuti and Sergio Parisse were the only two survivors from the Italian’s starting XV which played Ireland in Rome last year, and Benvenuti – on the wing here – was at centre that day. It showed in a defence that was liberally prized apart by England six days previously, even off first phase, and Ireland followed suit.
Going wide inside their 22 from the off, and using more width to go through the phases to almost half-way. Initially though, Aki and Rob Kearney each knocking on flat passes by Sexton either side of Furlong – seemingly not sufficiently warmed up – pulling up with a hamstring injury.
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Only a fine tackle by Jack McGrath prevented the exciting Minozzi from breaking clear after a quick throw to him by winger Mattia Bellini. But by the ninth minute Ireland were making their intentions clear by turning down a 35 metre penalty for a lineout on the 22.
A nice strike move, Ireland setting up a fake maul before Devin Toner transferred to Peter O’Mahony and he laid the ball off for Murray to sweep infield and link with Sexton. Robbie Henshaw put Jacob Stockdale in but he was denied by Minozzi’s fine tackle.
From the resulting scrum Murray worked a switch with Stockdale, who carried close to the line, and a couple of phases later Murray skip passed Conan for Henshaw to power through Tommaso Boni and Bellini.
The lively McGrath claimed a loose ball on the deck after Henshaw had chased down a wild pass by Parisse, and a couple of phases later Murray worked the wrap and then, after O’Mahony’s soft hands released Jack Conan up the touchline, Murray looped around the number eight to score untouched from 30 metres. Sexton added a second conversion, this one from the left touchline.
Another attacking lineout saw Best rumble off a Toner take and maul to within inches of the line, and this time Aki charged onto Murray’s pass for the try.
The bonus point was delayed by O’Mahony failing to gather Murray’s hard pass and then a procession of three attacking set-pieces were eventually squandered when Sexton overcooked a grubber for Keith Earls. But it wasn’t too long in coming, and Earls was the scorer.
From McGrath’s tackle, Dan Leavy showed his remarkable strength over the ball with one of his trademark turnovers. Sexton straightened the line, and linked with Aki. Earlier, he had gone ahead with a pre-planned mover which had been cut off by Boni shooting up on his outside. When the Italian centre did so again, and a tad prematurely, this time Aki pulled the ball back, stood up hooker Luca Bigi, accelerated clear, drew Minozzi and put Earls away for his 26th try for Ireland.
Fully 35 minutes had elapsed before Italy had their first penalty, which led to their second lineout. But they couldn’t even execute that, Drean Budd failing to gather Luca Bigi’s hard throw one-handed.
Barely five minutes into the second half, Allan attemped a loop with Parisse, but his poor ‘no-look’ pass was gobbled up by Henshaw, who ran clear to score. Alas, this try came at a heavy cost, Henshaw jarring his elbow in grounding the ball when tackled by Benvenuti resulting in what looked like a dislocated shoulder. The unfortunate Henshaw was given oxygen before walking off with his arm in a sling.
Jordan Larmour was thus introduced for his debut, with Earls switching to outside centre, and he was soon latching onto an offload by Murray with a superb line. But for Romain Poite blocking the ball, Kearney would have scored from O’Mahony’s inside pass.
The shackles off, and offloading for fun, Ireland were in such control that Joe Schmidt could even afford to withdraw Murray and Sexton to bring on Kieran Marmion. On his first outing at outhalf since the Fijian game here last November, such is Carbery’s innate footballing ability that with an advantage play his first touch was a grubber for Larmour which he was blocked from reaching. From Toner’s take and maul, Best again peeled off, and was driven over the line by O’Mahony and Quinn Roux. Carbery converted.
Italy had some minor consolation when Tommaso picked a good line and fended Leavy before putting Tommaso Allan over on his inside, the outhalf also converting. After more good grunt by the pack off a take by O’Mahony, he and Stander both then carrying hard, Best and Carbery pulled the ball back in turn for Stockdale to completely blindside the Italian defence and score untouched.
But Schmidt would have been particularly annoyed by the manner Ireland conceded a second try, the ever dangerous Minozzi stepping Larmour and leaving him on his rear to exploit a poor chase and link with Parisse on his outside. The veteran’s offload inside was picked up off the floor and finished by Edoardi Gori.
Stockdale picked off a loose pass by Tommaso Castello to score from inside half-way, rounding Jayden Hayward with one of his old-school finishes for his sixth try in six tests. He isn’t the first to find that playing for Ireland can be restorative, and Carbery maintained the unerring kicking with another fine conversion to make it 56-14.
But Italy came back again, using the full width of the pitch off an attacking lineout, for Hayward to take Allan’s long floated pass and shift in on to Minozzi, who sped for the corner flag outside Larmour to score deservedly. It was his first Test try, and one would suggest of many.
After some lovely footwork by Larmour, Carbery’s floated pass was picked off by Bellini, but Earls had the angle and the legs on the younger man to hunt him down inside the Irish 22. It drew one of the day’s biggest cheers, and in terms of Ireland’s points’ differential, was worth a seven-pointer of their own.
SCORING SEQUENCE: 11 mins Henshaw try, Sexton con 7-0; 14 mins Murray try, Sexton con 14-0; 20 mins Aki try, Sexton con 21-0; 35 mins Earls try, Sexton con 28-0; (half-time 28-0); 45 mins Henshaw try, Sexton con 35-0; 53 mins Best try, Carbery con 42-0; 56 mins Allan try and con 42-7; 60 mins Stockdale try, Carbery con 49-7; 66 mins Gori try, Allan con 49-14; 70 mins Stockdale try, Carbery con 56-14; 75 mins Minozzi try 56-19;
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), Devin Toner (Leinster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: Andrew Porter (Leinster) for Furlong (4 mins), Quinn Roux (Connacht) for Henderson, CJ Stander (Munster) for Conan (both half-time), Jordan Larmour (Leinster) for Henshaw (45 mins), Kieran Marmion (Connacht) for Murray, Joey Carbery (Leinster) for Sexton (both 51 mins), Seán Cronin (Leinster) for Best (61 mins), Cian Healy (Leinster) for McGrath (68 mins).
ITALY: Matteo Minozzi (Zebre); Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Rugby), Tommaso Boni (Zebre), Tommaso Castello (Zebre), Mattia Bellini (Zebre); Tommaso Allan (Benetton Rugby), Marcello Violi (Zebre); Nicola Quaglio (Benetton Rugby), Luca Bigi (Benetton Rugby), Simone Ferrari (Benetton Rugby); Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Rugby), Dean Budd (Benetton Rugby); Sebastian Negri (Benetton Rugby), Braam Steyn (Benetton Rugby), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt).
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulouse) for Bigi (45 mins), Andrea Lovotti (Zebre) for Quaglio (37 mins), Maxime Mbanda (Zebre) for Steyn (45 mins), Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton Rugby) for Ferrari, Jayden Hayward (Benetton Rugby) for Boni (both 55 mins), Federico Ruzza (Benetton Rugby) for Negri, Edoardo Gori (Benetton Rugby) for Violi (both 58 mins). Not used: Carlo Canna (Zebre).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).