ROME (AP) — Ireland finally won a Six Nations match by defeating Italy 48-10 in the Rome sunshine on Saturday.
Following two losses to start the championship for the first time since 1998, Ireland ticked all of its checklist for the match: It won, it played well, and it scored a lot. The six tries were all converted by captain Jonathan Sexton, who finished the match in a comeback from another head knock.
Ireland also had two tries disallowed while Italy had men in the sin-bin in a scrappy second half. While Irish morale was boosted, a better gauge of their progress will come at Scotland in two weeks.
“I am really proud of the players. They’ve shown real character over the last couple of weeks,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said. “It’s not nice coming off two losses and waiting a couple of weeks to try and put that right.”
Italy’s record run of losses in the championship reached 30 in a poor display of frustration at being squeezed by the Irish — 18 penalties conceded — and dominated up front. Referee Mathieu Raynal’s patience wore out and he issued yellow cards to replacement prop Giosue Zilocchi and captain Luca Bigi. For four minutes, Italy was down to 13 men.
“We are really disappointed, especially for the result,” Italy coach Franco Smith said. “But you need to give credit to Ireland, which was under a lot of pressure after two defeats and came to Rome with great determination.
“In defense, physically, I couldn’t have asked for more … all of Italy wants us to win a match, we try always, with heart and hard work. But for now they’re better than us, even if we are doing everything to become like Ireland.”
Italy’s preparation was set back in the warmup when scrumhalf Stephen Varney was lost to injury in the empty Stadio Olimpico.
The desperate Irish scored their first try after 11 minutes, only their third in the competition and the first by a back. Center Garry Ringrose slipped through two tackles to get the opening try that should have gone to lock Iain Henderson three minutes earlier. Henderson reached through a double tackle to plant the ball but the Television Match Official said he knocked on.
The Ireland packed continued to impose itself. No. 8 CJ Stander ripped the ball from opposite Michele Lamaro, and they got a penalty from a defensive 5-meter scrum when the Italians buckled first.
Ireland scored two similar tries from lineout ball that split the Italians and finished with delightful offloads: Ringrose for fullback Hugo Keenan, then wing Jordan Larmour for flanker Will Connors.
Italy, full of ambition, finally managed to execute a chance in first-half injury time from a lineout into the corner. It looked like being blown again when the lineout maul was driven backwards, but the ball was moved on the blindside and flyhalf Paolo Garbisi offloaded brilliantly for flanker Johan Meyer to drive into the left corner.
From 27-10 at halftime, Ireland had its bonus-point try moments after the break. Sexton turned down another penalty shot for the corner lineout and the forwards punched in Stander on the seventh phase.
Italy blew its own attacking lineout chance through obstruction and the desperation to stop Ireland at the other end caused Zilocchi and Bigi to concede penalties in defense of their tryline.
But Ireland struggled to capitalize. A second Stander try was disallowed because of a knock on in the buildup, and wing James Lowe’s try was chalked off by a forward pass. In between, the forwards flexed their power again by crabbing a lineout maul over beside the posts and giving Connors a second try.
In injury time, replacement wing Keith Earls took a miss-out pass from Sexton, whose conversion from the right sideline gave him eight goalkicks from eight attempts.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports