By Padraic Halpin
Six Nations holders Ireland rediscovered their form to record their first victory of this year’s championship on Saturday, running in nine tries to thrash Italy 58-15 and end a frustrating run of results.
Ireland were already too far behind leaders England to retain their title and win an unprecedented third successive Six Nations outright but a ruthless display nevertheless handed Joe Schmidt’s injury-hit side a much needed confidence boost.
“From the off you could see the intensity and pace we wanted to play at. We put a lot of the silly mistakes we’ve made in the championship right today,” Ireland captain Rory Best said in a pitchside interview.
A dreadful mistake from Italy wing Leonardo Sarto, slapping a dinked Johnny Sexton kick back into open space, handed Ireland possession metres from the line to allow winger Andrew Trimble to open the scoring.
It also handed over momentum that bottom-of-the-table Italy found impossible to win back.
An Irish attack that had managed just two tries in their opening three games matched that paltry total after just 15 minutes when prop Jack McGrath crashed over following concerted pressure.
Edoardo Padovani got Italy on the board with a penalty but there was to be no repeat of October’s World Cup clash when a dogged Italian side ran Ireland close as another free-flowing move culminated in flanker CJ Stander’s first international try.
Ireland saved their best for the last attack of the half and lodged a contender for try of the tournament with a length-of-the-field break that began with a reverse Simon Zebo pass and ended in Jamie Heaslip’s arms after some inch perfect offloading.
As was the case in the first half, an Italian mistake led to the opening try of the second when centre Jared Payne easily intercepted an inviting pass from the inexperienced Padovani.
There was no let up and Heaslip had his second try minutes later while replacement hooker Sean Cronin got in on the act before the hour as the Italian defence capitulated and Ireland ran riot.
David Odiete scored his first international try to provide some relief for the visitors but it was brief as Ian Madigan jinked his way over the line and the game threatened to more closely resemble a one-sided sevens’ exhibition.
Sarto managed to grab another try back before another Irish replacement, Fergus McFadden, completed the rout.
“It’s difficult to find some words after this result. We’ve a lot of things to do to become competitive,” Italy captain Sergio Parisse said.