Stander and Gilroy run over hat-tricks as Ireland complete Roman rout
Joe Schmidt’s side ran over nine tries in Rome to pick up a much-needed victory
Italy 10 Ireland 63
Having made the wrong kind of history last week with the old championship’s first ever losing bonus point, Ireland made the right kind On a sun-kissed Roman afternoon with the first try-scoring bonus.
Venting their frustration from the Murrayfield anti-climax by roaring out of the blocks, Ireland had their fourth try by the 35th minute and tagged on another five in the second-half to complete Ireland’s record Six Nations win, eclipsing the 60-13 win in Dublin in 2000.
There were hat-tricks for CJ Stander, the first by a forward in the tournament and whose 22 carries contributed to yet another Man of the Match gong, and also replacement winger Craig Gilroy, as well as a brace for the razor-sharp Keith Earls and one for Garry Ringrose. So comfortable were Ireland that they could even afford to empty their bench well before the end.
Stander was not alone, for alongside him Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip were part of a truly rampant back-row. Much more accurate and precise, as expected, Ireland were full of intensity from the off and largely sustained it. Their hunger was manifest in their line speed and the way they hunted for tackles, forcing nine turnovers to just one as they matched this with their work-rate in clearing out – a trademark under Joe Schmidt.
Italy, for whom backing up is always a problem, especially with a six-day turnaround, were fairly hapless and missed 37 tackles in total. Earls, Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney will also rarely be afforded so many opportunities to run with the ball.
The one potential blemish was a late injury to Kearney, with what seemed a bicep or upper arm problem.
Carlo Canna kicked off and, as expected, Ireland were altogether more switched on from the outset. Zebo was quick to leave his mark, first determinedly chasing down and winning Conor Murray’s first box kick from Angelo Esposito in the air, then pirouetting past him when Paddy Jackson and Keith Earls combined for that rarity – an Irish counter-attack.
Ireland and the debutant Niall Scannell had already enjoyed a highly satisfying and encouraging shunt on the first Italian put-in to earn a penalty, and another, which led to Murray nabbing Sergio Parisse at the base and forcing a spillage which led to some intense pressure on the Italian line.
This entailed twice opting for scrums off penalties under the post as first Ghiraldini held Cian Healy up over the line, and then Zebo failed to complete the grounding by the corner flag when tackled by Esposito with a free play.
Eventually, the hard carrying from Henshaw, Heaslip, Healy, Stander et al, led to Murray feeding Jackson whose double skip pass enabled Keith Earls run in his 21st try in 56 tests, also narrowing the angle for Jackson to make it 7-0.
Although Canna opened Italy’s account with a penalty after a miscued box kick by Murray, effectively putting his team offside, it was but a brief interlude in Ireland’s utter dominance.
Scannell, settling in nicely with a couple of unexacting and successful throws, the first to a six-man line-out, the second to Heaslip at the front, initiated a 17-phase attack with a big gallop. Heaslip and Henshaw gave the move some momentum when the latter wrapped around the former’s lovely one-handed offload. Eventually, Zebo availed of a free play with a double skip, flat pass to Stander, hugging the touchline and the gain line, for the flanker to hand off Esposito and Edoardo Padovani for the try. Jackson’s touchline conversion wobbled over the crossbar like a wounded duck, but they all count.
A clever strike move had Ireland go back to the blind off a scrum, where Zebo did Esposito like a kipper and, after the usual suspects trucked it up hard, an O’Brien carry and good clear out by Donnacha Ryan and Healy, good hands by Murray, Jackson, Garry Ringrose and Kearney put Earls over for his second try of the day. Jackson converted from the touchline.
There was another brief interregnum when this time Murray was penalised for not rolling away. Twice Italy went to the corner, and when the maul was brought down Glen Jackson not only marched under the posts to signal a penalty try but sinbinned Donnacha Ryan despite the fact that he seemed to have nothing to do with it.
Despite that and their numerical disadvantage, when Murray was taken out off the ball, Ireland opted to go to the line, in part perhaps to use up time on Ryan’s ten minutes, but also to secure the Six Nations’ first ever attacking bonus point.
Scannell found Heaslip at the front again, and then peeled off a strong maul, and O’Brien was quick to make an effective clear-out and prevent the poach with help from Murray, for Earls to pop the ball to Stander. He charged into a block of three defenders but, helped by Henshaw, like Earls plundered his second try too. Jackson converted and Ireland trudged off 28-10 up at the break, after a first-half that fairly flew.
Ireland are generally better for their interval, 15-minute time-out, and resumed on the offensive immediately. A well sustained attack, continued by Stander picking up the loose ball from Zebo’s blocked grubber, an excellent close-in line from deep by O’Brien and a strong carry by Heaslip were the prelude to Stander also ghosting onto Murray’s cleverly delayed pass and galloping in from 30 metres to complete his hat-trick. It was his 16th carry of the game already and took to 40 the number by the Irish back-row trio. Jackson converted again.
Henshaw, who’d trucked it up ten times already, hobbled off to be replaced by Craig Gilroy, with Earls switching to outside centre and Ringrose moving inside.
With the contest now long over the crowd resorted to Mexican waves by the 50 minute mark. This was despite a rare sortie into the Irish 22 by Italy, with Edoardo Gori’s quick tap and dart, whereupon little Jackson ripped the ball in the tackle from big bad Parisse. Ireland’s supremacy was complete.
So complete, indeed, that there was an eye-catching bout of offloading. Ringrose carried hard and offloaded to Jack McGrath, who did likewise for Earls to show his footwork and Ringrose re-appear for another offload but Jackson slightly over-cooked his long skip pass to Gilroy.
To nit pick: concentration levels seemed to dip on the pitch as well. Given Italy’s six-day turnaround, Conor O’Shea was quicker to use his reserves, while the usual welter of to-ing and fro-ing from the bench also disrupted the game’s momentum. Well, more Ireland’s momentum really.
Some of Ireland’s running game at this juncture was too far behind the gain line, but off unstructured turnover ball they struck again. O’Brien was the architect in chief, dislodging the ball from Maxime Mbanda with a chest-on hit, then snaffling the ball, carrying hard and offloading to CJ Stander, with the third member of the rampant back-row – Heaslip – straightening and passing for Gilroy to step inside a tackle with his footwork and scamper in from 35 metres.
As the Italians’ wilted, Jackson worked a switch with Ringrose, whose in and out line took care of three flailing men in blue, amongst them Parisse, as he scored from 40 metres out. Stander even had a try assist courtesy of an agricultural hoik upfield after James Tracy and John Ryan worked a turnover in contact, the ball bounding wickedly over Mbanda and into the hands of the on-rushing Gilroy.
The Ulster winger then completed his hat-trick as the replacements, forwards and backs all intermingled in a swirl of good hard lines and offloading, and after Stander was held up just short, Gilroy trotted in off Jackson’s skip pass. The out-half even landed another touchline conversion to take his haul to nine conversions from nine equalling Jonny Wilkinson’s tournament record.
That means Jackson has now landed 27 of his last 28 kicks in test rugby. Some going.
Scoring sequence: 12 mins Earls try, Jackson con 0-7; 16 mins Canna pen 3-7; 18 mins Stander try, Jackson con 3-14; 26 mins Earls try, Jackson con 3-21; 35 mins Stander try, Jackson con 10-28; (half-time 10-28); 46 mins Stander try, Jackson con 10-35; 68 mins Gilroy try, Jackson con 10-42; 72 mins Ringrose try, Jackson con 10-49; 78 mins Gilroy try, Jackson con 10-56; 82 mins Gilroy try, Jackson con 10-63.
ITALY: Edoardo Padovani (Zebre Rugby); Angelo Esposito (Benetton Treviso) Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso), Luke Mclean (Benetton Treviso); Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre Rugby); Carlo Canna (Zebre Rugby); Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso); Andrea Lovotti (Zebre Rugby), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Stade Toulouse), Lorenzo Cittadini (Bayonne), Marco Fuser (Benetton Treviso), Andries van Schalkwyk (Zebre Rugby), Maxime Mbanda (Zebre Rugby), Simone Favarro (Glasgow Warriors), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt). Replacements: Dario Chistolini (Zebre Rugby) for Cittadini (half-time to 58 mins), Ornel Gega (Benetton Treviso) for Ghraldini, George Biagi (Zebre Rugby) for van Schalkwyk (both 47 mins), Abraham Steyn (Benetton Treviso) for Favarro (57 mins), Giorgio Bronzini (Benetton Treviso) for Gori (61 mins), Sami Panico (Calvisano) for Lovotti (64 mins), Tommaso Allan (Benetton Treviso) for Canna (70 mins).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster, capt). Replacements: Craig Gilroy (Dungannon/Ulster) for Henshaw (48 mins), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s/Leinster) for Healy (51 mins), John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Furlong (54 mins), Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) for Toner (60 mins), James Tracy (UCD/Leinster) for Scannell (63 mins), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) for O’Brien, Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for Murray (69 mins), Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster) for Zebo (75 mins).
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand).
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa).
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England).