NatWest 6 Nations
Ireland 56-19 Italy
Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale both grabbed doubles as Ireland cantered to an eight-try victory over Italy to continue their winning start to the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations.
After Jonathan Sexton’s late drop goal rescued them last week in Paris, Joe Schmidt’s men did their damage early and often in Dublin against the Azzurri.
They had wrapped up a bonus point by half time, Henshaw, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Keith Earls all crossing in a near-perfect first-half display.
After the break Henshaw bagged a second but injured his shoulder in the process, clearing the path for Jordan Larmour to make his hotly-anticipated international debut.
Rory Best was next to go over but Italy did muster something of a response with three tries of their own through Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori and Matteo Minozzi.
But, with the replacements on, Schmidt’s side kept coming and sealed their second win of this year’s Championship with Stockdale twice going over.
Ireland had crossed for nine tries in each of their last two meetings with the Azzurri and they signalled their intentions early on, refusing to kick possession away and instead building the phases.
A couple of early handling errors from the men in green slowed their momentum in the first ten minutes, while they also lost Tadhg Furlong to a hamstring injury.
But soon the first try arrived, Stockdale prominent in the build-up before Henshaw charged onto a clever Murray pass from close range to go over.
Sexton added the extras and almost immediately after, Schmidt’s side had a second when Jack Conan got clear down the left and fed Murray to canter clear.
With Sexton again flawless from the tee, Ireland were 14-0 to the good after 14 minutes.
And while Ireland had struggled to make line breaks in Paris, now they were carving up at will as Sexton picked holes in the Italian midfield time after time.
The third score went to Aki, the inside centre muscling his way over for his first international try after also being fed by man of the match Murray who had scored one and made two in the opening quarter.
Ireland were still going at a point a minute at this stage and when Aki burst clear and fed Earls to coast over down the right the bonus point was in the bag.
The Italians held on to the break with no further damage and Schmidt opted to introduce some of his replacements at the break, Quinn Roux and CJ Stander joining the party.
And the fifth try was not long in coming, Henshaw again the scorer as skipper Sergio Parisse and Allan got their wires crossed and the centre pounced on the loose ball to coast clear.
That was the centre’s last involvement however, an arm injury in the act of scoring ending his game but bringing Larmour on for his debut.
The youngster slotted onto the wing with Earls moving to outside centre and still the Ireland attack sung – only referee Romain Poite denying Rob Kearney a score as he found himself stuck in the way of a clever inside pass from CJ Stander with the try-line beckoning.
But when the rolling maul got to work, Best was the beneficiary at the back for their sixth score of the afternoon – Joey Carbery, on for Sexton, added the extras for a 42-0 lead.
Conor O’Shea’s men badly needed something or it was going to be a long final half an hour and it was Allan who provided it, the fly-half going over after Tommaso Castello’s initial break and adding the conversion.
But that was a minor hiccough for Ireland, who had their seventh on the hour mark when Carbery fed Stockdale who surged over under the posts.
Italy grabbed a second in the final quarter when Matteo Minozzi and Sergio Parisse combined down the left to set up replacement Gori to dive over.
Stockdale struck again however, the wing picking up a pass and bursting clear down the left for his second of the afternoon and his sixth try in six internationals.
But Italy did grab the final score, Minozzi getting a deserved score down the left and only a superb covering tackle from Earls denied Bellini a fourth and a bonus point.