DUBLIN (AP) – Ireland will lead Six Nations to the final round after registering Italy 50-17 at deserted Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
The first Six Nations Match in more than seven months completed the penultimate round suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ireland will go to France next week needing another bonus point win to claim a fourth title in six years. But while Ireland lead the championship, England have an easier final fight, Italy in Rome. England have never lost to Italy, and Italy has not won a Six Nations match since 2015.
Ireland spoke respectfully of Italy in progress, but made the intentions of their four bonus-point attempts known early when dodging penalty kicks to set the line forward. His strategy worked, as three of Ireland’s first four attempts were launched from the lineout, including a crucial fourth in the 61st minute.
By then, Ireland were leading 31-10, and Irish thinking turned to as many scores as possible if the points difference became decisive next Saturday in the final tally.
The Irishman added three more tries for a total of seven, but his rush to start with time running out backfired when new Italy player Paolo Garbisi broke through the Irishman and landed between the posts. He’s changing his business and the Irish won’t be happy about a late concession.
What delighted them was the introduction of winger Will Connors and winger Hugo Keenan, Jacob Stockdale’s first senior full-back position, and their ability to pinch the Italian ball or.
Italy lost six of its nine riders in the first half, and four of its nine turnovers, due to difficulty recycling the ball. The half also saw Italy conceding seven out of a total of 10 penalties, giving Ireland plenty of attacking options.
From the turnover, Ireland went for the lineout and No. 8 CJ Stander broke through in the ninth minute while scrumhalf Conor Murray was at a disadvantage for a professional foul.
Captain Jonathan Sexton took the penalty after the Italian scrum collapsed, but fired another penalty in the 30th minute. A lineout, rolling maul and a quick hand out to the left gave Keenan the momentum to break through three Italians for his first try.
Keenan completed a seemingly brilliant second attempt two minutes later, but Stockdale’s 40-yard break was defused by team-mate James Ryan blocking Niccolo Cannone’s opposite key and the attempt was erased.
Remarkably, Keenan had to wait just four minutes to score again. Italy went through 17 phases to get within 10 meters of the Irish line, but flanker Caelan Doris stole the ball and ran, Murray kicked forward and Keenan scooped up and became the first Irishman in seven years to score two attempts on his debut.
Ireland’s fourth attempt was postponed by Italian winger Edoardo Padovani, in his first test since the Rugby World Cup a year ago, intercepted Sexton and ran the net 50 yards to the post.
Soon after, Connors scored Ireland’s fourth goal from a lineout drive.
The only conversion Sexton missed was for his own efforts, after Stander and Doris ran over the Italians. Bundee Aki and substitute hooker Dave Heffernan also scored and Ireland placed 50 on Italy for the fourth time in five games.
But the restart in injury time was brought down by Peter O’Mahony, and Italy attacked. Garbisi, just 20 years old, broke two tackles and hit the third to become the third newcomer in the game to score on his debut. He finished the match the moment he started, with a goal kick.
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