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Six Nations: Ireland ease to win over Italy in opening fixture of Championship defence

Livewire scrum-half Conor Murray shouldered the responsibility of leading the Irish backline well
Image: Conor Murray: scored Ireland's first try of the game

Ireland opened the defence of their Six Nations title with a stuttering 26-3 victory over Italy in Rome.

Tries from Conor Murray and Tommy O'Donnell as well as 14 points from the boot of Ian Keatley gave the defending champions the perfect start to this year’s campaign despite a disjointed display.

Ireland suffered an early disruption to the match when they lost Sean O’Brien to an injury during the warm-up. His place in the starting line-up was taking by O'Donnell and Robbie Diack was called onto the bench.

There had been rain leading up to kick-off, making for slippery conditions in the opening exchanges - and the early handling reflected that.

The first half played host to typically bullish Italian defence, but as is often the case with Italy it was not long before the constant tackling took its toll. To the hosts' credit they did not concede a try in the first half, but Keatley kept Ireland ticking over with his boot.

Keatley did not enjoy a good start in the No 10 jersey with ball in hand, but missed no kicks at goal on the day, and he took his team to a 9-0 lead in the 35th minute.

Purpose

By the time the teams headed into the break Italy had added a penalty of their own, but it was Ireland who started the second half with more purpose.

More from Six Nations 2015: Italy V Ireland

Italy’s disciplined defence during this period, and uncharacteristically poor execution from Ireland, meant that it took until the close of the third quarter for Ireland to finally add to that scoreline with another kick from Keatley. At that point Leonardo Ghiraldini was shown a yellow card for a professional foul at a maul, and thereafter Ireland began to pile on the pressure as well as points.

Conor Murray was the first to cross over when Ireland had the extra man advantage, darting over from close range at the side of a ruck, and his score was followed two minutes later by a solo break from O'Donnell. Both scores were converted.

Italy appeared to have scored in the dying minutes but Kelly Haimona was denied his first international try when the TMO spotted a knock-on from Sergio Parisse in the build up to it.

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