Ireland cut loose in Dublin
February 25, 2012
Ireland's Tommy Bowe races in to score one of his two tries at the Aviva Stadium
© Getty Images
Ireland cut loose to defeat Italy 42-10 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, opening their account for the Six Nations.
Ireland winger Tommy Bowe was at the forefront of their charge after he crossed in each half to move third in the all-time list of Irish try-scorers with 22, trailing Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie. The rout was initiated by Keith Earls, who celebrated his return following the recent birth of his first child by slipping over in the 16th minute, with Tom Court and Andrew Trimble also touching down.
Fly-half Jonathan Sexton finished with 17 points in a flawless afternoon and was joined in the second half by Ronan O'Gara, who surpassed O'Driscoll to become Ireland's most capped player with 118 appearances. Sexton was the official man of the match, but he must have been run close by Rob Kearney who lit up the Aviva Stadium with a succession of darting runs from full-back that troubled Italy's defence throughout.
While the scoreboard points to an easy afternoon, Ireland made heavy work of it and at times were guilty of over-elaborating. But coach Declan Kidney will otherwise be pleased with a comfortable victory that has provided some positive news in an otherwise ill-fated campaign.
Since losing to Wales on February 5 thanks to a penalty that a disciplinary hearing later admitted should not have been awarded, they have since seen their clash with France postponed at the last minute and lost their forwards coach Gert Smal for the rest of the championship due to an eye condition. Dispatching Italy - a result that concludes their sequence of three successive home defeats - at last provides them with a platform as they prepare for their return to Paris next Sunday.
New Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel made four changes to the side edged by England, the most notable of which saw Tobias Botes preferred ahead of Kristopher Burton at fly-half. It was Botes' full Test debut and he produced enough to suggest he is worth persevering with, although his statistics of just two successful kicks in five attempts made for grim reading.
Botes failed to a land a tricky long-range penalty as early as the second minute, but Ireland were soon in control. Ambition was evident in Italy's play but they lacked accuracy and conceded the initiative with a series of unforced errors.
Ireland exploded into life when Gordon D'Arcy accelerated through a large hole that had inexplicably opened up in the Azzurri's midfield with Keith Earls and O'Brien in support. The move sparked a period of sustained pressure and eventually Italy wilted before the onslaught with Earls diving over.
Italy's Sergio Parisse claims the high ball © Getty Images
Ireland's gravest concern was their rising penalty count, one of which Botes dropped on to the crossbar with the ball then falling the wrong way. The South African-born outside-half missed with a drop goal after Italy had failed to capitalise on a five-metre scrum, prompting skipper Sergio Parisse to wave his arms in exasperation.
A hair-raising period followed with Italy almost wriggling through the midfield before Rob Kearney launched a counter-attack that gave way to Alberto Sgarbi being hauled down five metres out. The Azzurri were not done, however, and were rewarded with a 35th-minute try started when they pinched Ireland's line-out ball.
Openside Robert Barbieri committed four defenders during a charge to the line and when the ball was recycled Italy had a huge overlap that enabled Parisse to stroll home.
Ireland's response was emphatic, a series of runs creating numbers out wide that presented Tommy Bowe with a simple run-in.
Stephen Ferris and Bowe combined beautifully in the 47th minute only for full-back Andrea Masi to knock the ball from the hands of the Ospreys winger with the line beckoning. Sexton showed Botes how it is done by slotting two more penalties as Ireland pulled 13 points clear in perfect conditions at Lansdowne Road.
Superb hands from Sexton sent Bowe racing in for his second as Italy's defence began to creak alarmingly. And the floodgates opened with three minutes left, a series of forward drives ending with Court burrowing over before Trimble raced 30 metres to complete the rout.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton