Six Nations

Ireland late show sees off Italy

2015-02-07 21:20
Irish player Tommy O'Donnell (C) runs to score a try as he escapes from Italy's centre Luca Morisi (R) during the Six Nations International Rugby Union. (AFP)

Cape Town - Conor Murray and Tommy O'Donnell scored a try apiece and Ian Keatley kicked 14 points as Six Nations champions Ireland launched the defence of their title with an uneven performance in a 26-3 win over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

Ireland were shorn of several regulars who helped them secure last year's title as they travelled to the Italian capital intent on making amends for their 22-15 defeat to the Italians two years ago.

But any worries coach Joe Schmidt had in his young side were dispelled just after the hour mark when Murray then O'Donnell, a late replacement for Sean O'Brien, touched down to put the match beyond the reach of the hosts.

Italy were denied a late try in the closing stages when captain Sergio Parisse knocked on just before fly-half Kelly Haimona went over the tryline.

The error capped what was a poor performance from the hosts, who finished last season with the tournament's wooden spoon and went on to win only one match, against Samoa, in 2014.

Ireland are regarded as co-favourites for this year's title along with England and underlined those expectations by cruising to a victory that means they have now won eight consecutive games for the first time in six years.

Schmidt had been forced to make several changes to the side that won last year's title, with Brian O'Driscoll (retired), Andrew Trimble, Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Dave Kearney all missing from his squad.

But from the off the Irish never looked in trouble, with several up and coming players -- Keatley, Murray and Jordi Murphy -- all stepping up to the plate in what was far from a flowing game of rugby.

Munster fly-half Keatley, given the nod over Ian Madigan, gave Ireland a 9-3 half-time lead after kicking three penalties with Haimona scoring onee for the hosts on the stroke of half-time.

But Ireland were a different team in the second half.

The visitors emerged in determined fashion and had Italy pinned back near the tryline for long spells and extended their lead just before the hour thanks to another Keatley penalty.

Ireland, however, seized the game by the scruff of the neck in the space of two second-half minutes after Leonardo Ghiraldini was sin-binned on 63 minutes for an infringement at the maul.

Murray bundled the ball just over the tryline while under pressure, with Keatley adding the conversion for a 19-3 lead that left Italy with a mountain to climb.

O'Donnell was only included in the starting XV at the last minute when O'Brien -- who has not played a test in over a year -- suffered an injury in the warm-up but made the most of his unanticipated appearance with a blistering run down the middle to touch down unchallenged on 66 minutes.

Madigan, who had replaced Keatley minutes earlier, fired over an easy conversion to rubber stamp the win.

Read more on:    ireland  |  italy  |  six nations  |  rugby

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