Ireland won 54-7 scoring six of their eight tries in an unstoppable second half performance, in which Jordan Larmour scored a hat trick.
Tadhg Beirne opened the scoring after a period of dominant Irish possession. An earlier clean line break by Garry Ringrose had been squandered, but in the next visit to the Italian twenty-two, the Irish made sure of the seven points, Carberry converting the straightforward conversion.
The Italians responded with some good attacks of their own, with some clever passing interplays that gained them territory, however, their handling repeatedly let them down before they got close to the danger zone. Ireland’s defence perhaps forcing some of the errors, although a wild pass into touch ruined a potential scoring opportunity for the men in blue.
At times Ireland struggled to exit their own half, with kicks not always as accurate as they could be. At the half hour mark, the seven point lead was not as comfortable a score as it should have been.
Luke McGrath began and finished a move that broke the deadlock. It started with a box kick that looked like it did not travel as far as intended. Andrew Conway retrieved it despite close Italian pressure and made ground, stepping around defenders. A few phases later, Jordan Larmour broke the line with a terrific burst of pace. The scrum half was on his shoulder, running a great supporting line, and took the pass for an easy touchdown.
So it looked like Ireland would be comfortable at the break. They had possession in their own half and were making progress towards halfway, when Michele Campagnaro intercepted a pass back towards the ruck and scored. His running line is impressive, coming a long way from the other side of the ruck, showing that he anticipated the pass before it was made. Ireland took a slender seven point lead into the break.
A different Ireland team came out in the second half, reminiscent of some of Leinster’s flurries after the interval this year. Ex-Leinster second row, Tadhg Beirne, scored his second try, after some excellent play by both Conway and Larmour to take the ball deep into the Italian half. The pace of the Irish ball at the ruck, helped by fast clear-outs from players running excellent support lines, gave the defenders no chance. 21-7 and Ireland back in business.
Jordan Larmour got his first try a little opportunistically. From a poor clearance kick by Joey Carberry, the Italians had a dangerous line-out and let the ball out the backs. Campagnaro’s pass somehow flicked forward off his own player. Larmour was ready to pounce. The speed at which he burst forward to catch the wayward pass was something to behold. At full tilt when he received the ball, there was no defender able to get close as he ran half the pitch to score.
It was around this point that we started to see the substitutes coming on, eager to get their chance to shine, and knowing that they might not get a look in again until the game against the USA. Sean Cronin came on and set up a nice maul from a close line-out, positioning himself at the back and guiding the maul over the line to score Ireland’s fifth. The Irish maul was working well tonight, both in attack and defence.
Ross Byrne took the field at around the sixty minute mark. He looked good in his first Irish cap. The pace of the Irish play was beyond the Italians at this stage and they looked like they were praying for the final whistle. Some smart, straight, running from Garry Ringrose sucked in two defenders to cover him, and his pass to Jordan Larmour left the Italian line at the full back’s mercy. Try number two for the soon-to-be man of the match. The rout was on.
There was no let up in the ferocity of the Irish clear-outs at the ruck as the game entered the dying minutes. Garry Ringrose soon got pay back for his sweet set-up pass a minute or so before. He scored in the corner against a weary Italian defence. Ross Byrne nailed the difficult kick.
The pick of tonight’s tries was the last. Jordan Larmour got hold of the ball with the clock approaching red on his own ten metre line, danced around a few Italian players and sped down the touch line. His pace is unbelievable — blink and you miss him — especially at the eighty minute mark in a game where he was busy all night. Amazing fitness. He dodged around the remaining defenders, but they did not get close. The only complaint might come from Ross Byrne, that he did not touch down closer to the posts, his Leinster team mate missing the conversion.
What can we learn from this match? We got a glimpse at a few of the back-up players and they all put in solid performances, but to be honest the Italians were not a strong enough test. Conor O’Shea was clearly trying to broaden the player base, using an inexperienced team, but Ireland’s inexperienced second string were too strong.
Schmidt has a few conundrums to untangle to find out his first team. My pick of the night that will give him the most stress is Jack Conan. He was excellent, if understated tonight, making seventeen tackles and missing none, carrying the ball well, and dominating some of the ruck space. He has a lot to do to move aside the incumbent, CJ Stander, but watch this space.
Back to Ireland for next week and Argentina for a tea-time kick off. Can’t wait.