Ireland cruised to their first win of the 2016 Six Nations tournament on Saturday, scoring nine tries and crushing Italy 58-15 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in Round 4.
Andrew Trimble, Jack McGrath, CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip all scored tries in the first half, and Heaslip added a second after half-time. Jared Payne also got his name on the board, as did Sean Cronin, Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden. Jonathan Sexton struggled from the tee, missing a number of conversions.
David Odiete and Leonardo Sarto scored tries for Italy, while Edoardo Padovani kicked an early penalty.
Before the start of the match, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt commented on suggestions he'd play Payne at full-back, saying he adds too much to the defence at outside-cente for that, per the Press Association (for Sky Sports):
I don't know what calls there were on the outside for Jared to play full-back.We haven't trained with Jared at 15 so it would be a big step for us to suddenly change that.
Rob Kearney trained on Monday and Simon Zebo has played plenty of full-back for us. What we lack with Jared Payne not in the midfield has been particularly evident for us, particularly on the edge in defence.
We're looking for him to control our defence again in the frontline.
The Irish were desperate to add their first win of the 2016 campaign, but it was Italy who threatened first, as Gonzalo Garcia had a try disallowed just minutes into the match. ESPN Scrum's Robin Bartlett explained why the try wasn't given:
It was a big let-off for the hosts, who started the match looking rather sluggish defensively. A steal from the lineout gave them possession in a promising area, however, and a poor tap from Leonardo Sarto allowed Sexton to take control of the ball and find Trimble for the first try.
Sexton missed the conversion, but the early score set the tone for a dominant first half from Ireland. McGrath soon powered home the second try, and following Sexton's conversion, Ireland were leading 12-0.
Padovani put the visitors on the board after a sloppy Ireland turnover midway through the first half, but Sexton restored the 12-point lead soon after. Sergio Parisse was the guilty man with a late tackle, and per The42.ie Rugby, the veteran was lucky not to get booked after receiving an earlier warning:
Ireland increased the pressure on the Italy defence as the first half wore on, taking advantage of their narrow shape by exploiting the spaces out wide. The third try of the match had little to do with pace, however, as Stander simply muscled his way over the line. Once again, Sexton's aim was off on the conversion.
An Azzurri lineout just a few metres from Ireland's try-line came to naught thanks to some great work from Sexton, as momentum remained with the hosts, and Heaslip put the icing on the cake with a wonderful try just before half-time.
Sexton started the play with a marvellous run, Simon Zebo found the gap before offloading to Payne, and Heaslip eventually found the corner. Bartlett was impressed:
The score was 25-3 at half-time, as Italy found no answer for Ireland's persistent pressure. Had Sexton not missed a handful of conversions, the hosts' lead would have been even bigger.
Ireland slowed down the play to start the second half, knowing full well they already had the match won. Four minutes into the match, Padovani handed Payne another try with a dreadful pass, and Heaslip added a second try soon after.
Bartlett thought things might get out of hand:
Replacement Cronin joined in on the fun soon after, as Italy's defence crumbled completely. The Azzurri had reason to celebrate in the second half as well, however, as Odiete found himself on the end of a great pass from Guglielmo Palazzani and scored the visitors' first try of the match.
Ireland continued to push forward for more tries, and after some sloppy passing allowed the Italians to catch their breath, Madigan eventually broke through after 63 minutes.
Like many, sports writer Ewan MacKenna couldn't help but wonder why the Italians still receive an automatic birth into the Six Nations while he watched them struggle against the previously winless Ireland squad:
The Irish pressure finally lifted after Madigan's try, and Italy were allowed to pass the ball around a bit and kill the time.
Sarto added a second try late for the visitors, with video replay confirming the ball did not move forward before he went over in the corner. McFadden scored the final try of the match, Ireland's ninth of the afternoon.
Ireland will host Scotland in their final Six Nations match of the year, while Italy will travel to Wales on Saturday, March 19.