Ireland 29 Italy 10
Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium
You would have to feel for the marketing team in the IRFU for trying to sell this game to the masses. Not only is it difficult to capture the imagination when it comes to a warm-up game against a team Ireland beat on an annual basis but there must have been a few expletives ushered when Mayo secured their passage to the All-Ireland semi-final last week which guaranteed a sold-out clash with Dublin in Croke Park on the same day.
Not that any of this will bother Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff. The aim of the game is to run the rule over those players on the fringes and to regain some much-needed confidence after a difficult Six Nations.
To that end, Ireland succeeded.
They recorded what in the end was a comfortable victory. Was it perfect? No. But the first match of the season is always going to throw up some rustiness let alone the unsettled look to this team.
Ireland did score some excellent tries which will no doubt boost their confidence when it comes to their attack.
A lot of this work revolved around the quality of play from Joey Carbery but the Munster out-half left the field on a stretcher in the second half with what looks like an ankle injury. The silence which descended on the Aviva Stadium tells you everything you need to know about the level of worry from Irish supporters and they will no doubt be hoping that it’s not a serious as it looks.
The scrappy nature of the game featured throughout and it was clearly evident in the opening couple of minutes as both teams knocked the ball on under little pressure.
Ireland looked dominant in the scrum and continuously won penalties at the setpiece which made life difficult for the Italians.
Some good improvisation from Joey Carbery saw him hack the ball downfield after an Italian player fumbled a pass, the ball stopped just short of the line but a chasing Dave Kearney couldn’t pick the ball up off his laces to get his first try on what was his first appearance in a green shirt since November 2017.
Italy managed to clear and then some indiscipline from Ireland allowed their opponents some territory. The Italian maul proved to be dangerous as Ireland conceded two back-to-back penalties when trying to defend this setpiece close to the line.
Eventually, Italy went through the phases close to the Irish line and Maxime Mbanda did well to spot a gap to the side of the ruck and he won’t score a much easier try as he dived over with little in his way.
Italy failed to land the conversion and it was at this point of the game that Joey Carbery began to pull the strings for his side. He and Jordan Larmour began to target the Italian backfield with probing kicks. A breakdown penalty saw Ireland go to the corner in search of their first try and it came moments later when Luke McGrath fired a ball out of the ruck to Chris Farrell.
The Munster man produced a no-look pass to find his provincial colleague, Carbery, who was running a cutting line to dot down to the left of the posts. The Munster out-half notched the conversion with ease to put his side into a 7-5 lead.
It didn’t take long for Italy to hit back, however. Giulio Bisegni clipped through a delightful grubber kick into the end goal area and it was Carlo Canna who was first on the scene to dot down for the Italians’ second.
A missed conversion meant the lead was just three points but Ireland began to ramp up the intensity soon after and it resulted in another try.
Ireland went through a number of phases after they kicked to the corner from a penalty. They kept the ball in close quarters for long enough to develop an overlap out wide. The ball went through the hands where Dave Kearney found himself in enough space to go over in the corner. Carbery landed the touchline conversion to give his side a 14 – 10 lead.
Kearney was at the fore again when he put in an excellent kick downfield which he chased brilliantly to put in a tackle just outside of the Italian try line. The cavalry soon arrived and when Italy attempted to play it out, they were brought to ground in goal to concede the 5m scrum to Ireland.
Ireland kept the pressure on at the Italian end of the pitch and after a series of Italy penalty concessions, Ireland made the pressure count when Andrew Conway crossed the whitewash in the corner to give Joe Schmidt’s men a 19-10 lead at halftime.
Ireland produced a superb break down the right flank at the start of the second half which all began from an excellent Larmour offload. This saw Luke McGrath with acres of space in front of him. The support line the Leinster scrum-half ran was brilliant but a slight slip saw his speed reduced but he was able to offload the ball to a teammate to eventually bring Niall Scannell just a metre short of the Italian line.
The move eventually broke down but a penalty advantage saw Ireland go to the corner when a powerful maul saw Jordi Murphy touch down for a try to extend Ireland’s lead to 24-10.
Ireland were moving through the gears nicely but a worried silence descended on the Aviva Stadium with just 10 minutes played of the second half as Carbery left the field on a stretcher due to what looks to be an ankle injury.
Connacht man Jack Carty replaced the Munster out-half but Schmidt will be hoping that the Auckland born 23-year-old can recover in time for the World Cup.
Both teams made a number of changes which took what little sting there was out of this game but there was a cheer for Mike Haley who came on for Andrew Conway to make his international debut for Ireland.
With 15 minutes remaining, Kieran Marmion, who came in place of Luke McGrath, scored Ireland’s fifth try when he blocked down an Italian kick.
Marmion collected the bouncing ball and dived over the line to extend Ireland’s lead to 29-10.
The scoreline remained the same for the final 15 minutes and focus will now quickly shift to any walking wounded from the 80-minute run-out.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway (Haley 60′), Garry Ringrose, Chris Farrell, Dave Kearney, Joey Carbery (Carty 50′), Luke McGrath (Marmion 57′), Jack McGrath (Ryan 40′), Rob Herring (Scannell 19′), Andrew Porter, Devin Toner (Iain Henderson), Jean Kleyn, Rhys Ruddock (c), Tommy O’Donnell, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Mike Haley.
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti (Ian McKinley 25′ HIA Benvenuti 35′), Matteo Minozzi (McKinley 40′), Giulio Bisegni, Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani (Braley 52′), Nicola Quaglio (Lovotti 40′), Oliviero Fabiani (Zani 41′), Marco Riccioni (Ferrari 52′), Alessandro Zanni (Negri 55′), Dean Budd, Giovanni Licata, Mata Mbanda (Lazzaroni 49′), Jimmy Tuivaiti (Giammarioli 50′).
Replacements: Federico Zani, Andrea Lovotti, Simone Ferrari, Marco Lazzaroni, Renato Giammarioli, Callum Braley, Ian McKinley, Negri.