After their encouragingly narrow defeat by England in Rome, Italy arrived in Dublin in optimistic mood. They leave having been comprehensively crushed by Ireland’s heavy machinery. The hosts’ hooker, Dan Sheehan, scored two tries – as he did when they sealed last season’s grand slam, while the multi-talented Irish backline was as precise and punishing as ever.
Italy were outclassed in every facet, coughing up a succession of scrum penalties, while Gonzalo Quesada’s side proved incapable of defending the rumbling maul frequently set up by Andy Farrell’s relentless team. The hosts’ excellence was such that Italy’s campaign, arguably, should be judged on more winnable fixtures. Ireland are two from two with Wales at home next up, and France already dispatched in utterly dominant fashion on the opening weekend.
Against Steve Borthwick’s England at Stadio Olimpico, Italy’s backs enjoyed space to demonstrate their skills, but had no such favours here. They began brightly, though, and when Robbie Henshaw was penalised they had a chance to edge ahead with a penalty. It was a horrible mishit off the tee by Paolo Garbisi, and Quesada may have been questioning his decision not to start Tommaso Allan.
Ireland were soon becalmed by Jack Crowley’s well-worked score: not only the Munster man’s first try for Ireland but his first senior try. The fly-half linked well with his half-back partner, Craig Casey, and showed impressive persistence to make himself available for a simple offload on seven minutes.
Joe McCarthy, the star of Ireland’s dominant win in Marseille, demonstrated intelligence and strength in equal measure by striding out of the defensive line and scragging Garbisi before Ireland got close to the Azzurri try-line again, James Lowe knocking on under pressure. The wing absolved himself soon after with a muscular, hard-fought turnover.
Sheehan, as if to underline Ireland’s physical dominance, chose to run straight through Italy’s full-back, Ange Capuozzo, beyond the try-line. It was 10-0, soon to be 12-0 when Crowley converted a score created by his silky skills. The no-look pass that initiated the attack, for a sprinting Hugo Keenan, looked a touch forward, but there was no doubt about the delightfully sympathetic offload that found Keenan again on the short side, creating the space for Sheehan.
Ireland’s next score was less a blend of silk and steel and more about the heavy artillery: Sheehan took the ball at the back of a rolling maul, which picked up momentum after Lowe added his weight. Jack Conan, the No 8, touched down. The score stood at 19-0 at half-time and again, Italy for all their endeavour, faced a second 40 minutes of simply trying to limit the damage.
Italy’s scrum was collapsing, and the latest penalty against them gave Ireland their bonus-point score 10 minutes after half-time. Sheehan took the ball again at the back of a maul, the try being scored with worrying ease from the point of view of Quesada and his assistants. After a rampaging run down the middle by Keenan, Sheehan narrowly missed out on his hat-trick in the corner due to a superb tackle by Stephen Varney.
Henshaw crashed over and was denied a try, perhaps a touch harshly, for a double movement. Still the score was 24-0 with a quarter of the match remaining, and it was 29-0 when Lowe hared down the left wing and forced his way over despite the attention of Monty Ioane.
Ross Vintcent of Exeter appeared off the bench with a little over 10 minutes remaining for his first international cap, but the game was long gone by then. Ireland welcome Wales to Dublin in 13 days’ time, on the same day Scotland host England, while Italy go to Lille to face France.
Wales losing a tense encounter against England on Saturday was a result that subverted recent themes in the Six Nations – while heroic failure for Scotland against France was a naggingly familiar feeling for Gregor Townsend’s team. Ireland hammering Italy at home, though? That was never in doubt.