Italy 16-26 Ireland: Visitors survive Six Nations scare in Rome
Last Updated: 24/02/19 10:30pm
Italy forced Ireland to sweat in their Six Nations clash in Rome, but Joe Schmidt's charges had enough to get out of the Stadio Olimpico with a bonus-point win, 26-16.
An Italian try from Luca Morisi on the stroke of half-time gave Conor O'Shea's side a 16-12 lead at the break, after Edoardo Padovani's five-pointer had helped the home side stay in touch.
While it was far from pretty from an Irish perspective, tries from Keith Earls and Conor Murray after the break helped steady the ship, as they secured the bonus point following first-half scores from Quinn Roux and Jacob Stockdale.
Ireland started brightly, with Italy's poor discipline costing them on occasions. The reigning champions put together 19 phases in the lead-up to the opening score as they wore down the Italian defence and Roux eventually crossed.
The boot of Tommaso Allan kept the Azzurri in touch as he pulled it back to 7-3, but Ireland were to strike again immediately from the restart. Italy failed to deal with Johnny Sexton's kick-off, and flying Ulster winger Stockdale was the grateful beneficiary as he raced over. However, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year was unable to add the extra two points on offer.
While many would have assumed that the Irish would kick on and build on their 12-3 advantage, the home side hit back as an Allan penalty was quickly followed by Padovani's try. The malfunctioning Irish line-out played a role, as Italy threw it wide for the winger to make it over.
As the clock ticked towards half-time, O'Shea's side would strike again, this time through Morisi. As Ireland trudged into the dressing room, trailing by four points, there was a real belief around the stadium that an upset could be on the cards.
After the break the away side proved too strong for their hosts as Munster duo Earls and Murray crossed the line to settle Irish nerves, but it was far from a satisfactory performance for Schmidt.
Handling errors proved frustrating throughout for the Irish, who are yet to click into top gear in this year's championship.
Ian McKinley took on a penalty at the death which would have secured a losing bonus point for Italy, but it trailed to the right, and into the hands of Stockdale. The winger embarked on a run up the pitch, and broke into the Italian backfield. However, when he drew the full-back the pass did not go to hand, and the error summed up a frustrating afternoon for Ireland, who nonetheless head for home with maximum points secured and their slim championship hopes still intact.
Italy's hunt for a first Six Nations win since 2015 goes on, as they prepare for their trip to Twickenham, while Ireland host France in Round Four.
Italian scrum-half Tito Tebaldi played a starring role for the home side, as they almost caused a huge shock. He controlled the game, getting the better of opposite number Murray, with impressive use of the box-kick throughout.
Irish composure. The lineout, so often a key part of the Irish game-plan, simply misfired. Without that solid foundation at the set-piece, Schmidt's charges struggled.
The visitors let several chances go amiss. A win is a win, but Schmidt and co have plenty to work on ahead of the visit of a resurgent France team.