Ireland 54 Italy 7
Italian job done yet again. It may have taken a while but as so often happens in modern rugby the superior team reaps its rewards in the second-half, and having led by two converted tries to one at the break, Ireland added another unanswered six tries to record a third consecutive half-century against the Azzurri.
Earlier this week Conor O'Shea had lamented that Italy had hardly fired a shot against Ireland in his time as the Italy head coach and following on from 63-10 and 56-19 Six Nations defeats under his watch, he must be heartily sick of Joe Schmidt's team.
As an occasion it was always going to be a far cry from the corresponding day two years ago when a capacity 61,000 witnessed Ireland's historic win over the All Blacks. Soldier Field was less than half full for Ireland's latest excursion.
Nevertheless, as with the IRFU who are reckoned to have earned at least €250,000 from the expedition, for Schmidt, his coaching staff and squad, this was a profitable outing.
He had wanted solid set-pieces as a platform for Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery, and by and large they delivered handsomely, delivering a 100 per cent return on their own ball while making inroads into the Italian throw. From this, their hard work and trademark accuracy around the breakdown eventually wore down Italy's resistance.
The halves went well too, Carbery recovering from a couple of missed tackles earlier and one intercepted pass to pull the strings with his customary polish. He took the ball to the gain line well, brought others into the game and landed five from five.
Garry Ringrose looked dangerous whenever he was in possession, but the star turn was undoubtedly Jordan Larmour, who marked his first test start with his first three test tries - two from his original starting point of fullback, and a mesmerising fourth from the left wing.
Beating opponents at will with his footwork - he really could beat his man in a telephone booth - Larmour was credited with four clean line breaks and beating 12 defenders.
There were also a couple of tries in his first test start for Tadhg Beirne, who looks like he can add real value, and both were strong close-range finishes. There were also big carrying games from Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan and Bundee Aki.
Ringrose was a stand-out defender, and although Ireland conceded five line breaks and missed several more tackles, generally plugged the holes quickly and restricted Italy to just one intercept try.
The way the game started reinforced any pre-match feelings that Ireland would have it fairly easy. Literally straight from Carlo Canna's kick-off, Jacob Stockdale broke through and upfield, then featuring again in the same multi-phase drive with a run up the left and offload inside to Jack Conan.
The drive ended with Ringrose losing the ball over the line after being tap-tackled by Michele Campagnaro barely a minute and a half into the game. It was a temporary reprieve for the Italians, with Carbery tapping a penalty into the corner for Beirne to gather Niall Scannell’s throw and then finished off the move a few phases later when reaching out for the line with a good, strong finish.
Although Italy briefly threatened when Johan Meyer gathered Canna's deft grubber, Ireland dominated the first quarter. Andrew Conway, Carbery and Larmour combined nicely, although for the most part it was no-frills recycling save for when Carbery's attempted skip pass was picked off by Giuilio Bisegni when a try looked on.
Soon though, the Azzurri left a try behind, or at least were deemed to do so by Nigel Owens, after showing their ability to retain possession through multiple phases. The returning captain Campagnaro made a half break and offload to the supporting Abraham Steyn, and several recycles later Steyn attempted to place the ball at the base of the post despite the best efforts of Rhys Ruddock and Larmour, but was judged to have fumbled. Replays suggested he may have well have grounded against the post, but with his communications lines to his TMO having broken down, Owens stuck with his original decision.
Instead Ireland doubled their lead. When Larmour took Carbery's pass there seemed little on, although in truth there's always something on when he has the ball. His dazzling footwork stood up a couple of defenders before he stepped Luca Bigi to break clear and then put the supporting Luke McGrath over.
Italy again came away empty handed from another concerted attack when Campagnaro elected to pass rather than back himself when having the angle on Ringrose, and with Stockdale pushing up, Bisegni was too flat to take the pass. But on half-time Campagnaro picked off Ruddock’s intended inside pass to Larmour to score untouched to make it 14-7. Each side having left a couple of tries behind, the scoreline was a true reflection of the first 40.
Whatever positive energy Italy took from that and the interval immediately evaporated with the self-inflicted concession of 14 points inside six minutes of the resumption.
Sean Cronin, on at half-time, made an immediate impact when pressurising Tito Tebaldi into a loose pass which Ruddock picked off, and several phases later, after Bundee Aki and Ringrose had carried hard close to the line, Beirne bust through the tackle of Renato Giammarioli to score again.
By the time Italy’s Ian McKinley was introduced to play against his native Ireland for the first time on the hour mark, the die had already been cast.
Skip passes were tricky in the windy city, but within a minute, Italian fullback Luca Sperandio attempted a long floated one which drifted horribly floated into the hands of Larmour on halfway. In a flash Larmour had sprinted clear to score.
Big scrum pressure, following the introduction of David Kilcoyne would have been as enjoyable for Cronin as his subsequent try off a line-out drive.
Pleasingly for Schmidt, an influx of replacements added to Ireland’s momentum, and when they stretched the tiring blue line Larmour took Ringrose’s pass to completely bamboozle Steyn and Sperandio to score his second.
Ross Byrne, moments into his debut, converted and then played Aki into space for the Connachtman to arc through with a classic outside break and put Ringrose over. Byrne even landed the touchline conversion.
Larmour had the final say when stepping Federico Ruzza, Tebaldi and Guglielmo Palazzani, two of whom were fairly fresh subs, in a mildly astonishing finish from inside half way to dot down his fourth try. Byrne's missed conversion was about the only blemish on the second half.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Beirne try, Carbery con 7-0; 33 mins L McGrath try, Carbery con 14-0; 39 mins Campagnaro try, Canna con 14-7; (half-time 14-7); 45 mins Beirne try, Carbery con 21-7; 46 mins Larmour try, Carbery con 28-7; 56 mins Cronin try, Carbery con 35-7; 64 mins Larmour try, Byrne con 42-7; 66 mins Ringrose try, Byrne con 49-7; 81 mins Larmour 54-7.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Luke McGrath (Leinster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster). Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster) for Scannell (half-time), David Kilcoyne (Munster) for J McGrath (51 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Porter (58 mins), Devin Toner (Leinster) for Beirne, Ross Byrne (Leinster) for Carbery, Will Addison (Ulster) for Stockdale (all 60 mins), John Cooney (Ulster) for L McGrath (65 mins), Jordi Murphy (Ulster) for van der Flier (68 mins).
Italy: Luca Sperandio (Benetton); Matteo Bellini (Zebre), Michele Capagnaro (unattached, capt), Luca Morisi (Benetton), Giulio Bisegni (Zebre); Carlo Canna (Zebre), Tito Tebaldi (Benetton); Nicola Quaglio (Benetton), Luca Bigi (Benetton), Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton), Marco Fuser (Benetton), George Biagi (Zebre), Johan Meyer (Zebre), Abraham Steyn (Benetton), Renato Giammarioli (Zebre). Replacements: Cherif Traore (Benetton) for Quaglio (22 mins), Federico Ruzza (Benetton) for Biagi, Jimmy Tuivaiti (Zebre) for Giammarioli (both 56 mins), Giosue Zilocchi (Zebre) for Pasquali, Ian McKinley (Benetton) for Canna (both 61 mins), Oliviero Fabiani (Zebre) for Bigi, Marco Lazzaroni (Benetton) for Mayer (both 64 mins), Guglieomo Palazzani (Zebre) for Monzi (70 mins).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)