Rome - Reigning
champions Ireland battled to a 26-16 Six Nations win over Italy on
Sunday, earning a bonus-point victory while condemning the hosts to a
20th successive defeat in the tournament.
The home side led 16-12 at the break thanks to tries from Edoardo Padovani and Luca Morisi and two Tommaso Allan penalties.
But Ireland hit back in the second half with Keith Earls and Conor
Murray touching down to add to Quinn Roux and Jacob Stockdale's first
"There's a sense of relief as we didn't play as well as we'd hoped for," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
"We didn't create opportunities, we didn't make the most of the ones we had, we made errors like we did before half-time.
"I'm proud of the players the way they stayed calm and delivered what
we needed to make sure we got the win and the five points.
"That is what we needed out of the game and to keep them scoreless in the second half."
Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony added: "We knew how difficult it was coming to Rome.
"There's certainly stuff we can do better, but we'll kick on now and look forward to France in a couple of weeks."
Italy coach Conor O'Shea's side next play England as they look for their first win in the tournament since 2015.
"We're climbing our mountain," said the former Ireland international fullback.
"We have to move on and keep on driving, driving driving. We have
injuries today, we'll get some guys back, that's the nature of the
beast. We'll dust down and get ready for Twickers."
Ireland needed to win big to boost their hopes of retaining their
title after losing their opener to England (32-20) and beating Scotland
And the Irish had looked to be cruising as they led 12-3 with Roux touching down after 11 minutes.
Chris Farrell had made the initial break towards the line but stopped just short, with Roux taking possession to finish off.
Jonathan Sexton converted with Stockdale getting his team's second try ten minutes later.
The Ulster wing picked up the ball and raced down the field for his 14th try in 17 Test appearances.
Italy were missing their talismanic skipper Sergio Parisse who
shouted support from the sidelines after being ruled out
The Azzurri got on the scoreboard after 20 minutes with Allan converting a penalty but Ireland immediately hit back.
Scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi pulled out a towering performance at the
heart of the Azzurri playing a role in the tries scores by Padovani (33
minutes) and Morisi (39).
Ireland lost Bundee Aki after 12 minutes with the Connacht centre
failing a head injury assessment to be replaced by Andrew Conway.
The Italians could have led by an even bigger margin but Allan,
hampered by windy conditions in the Stadio Olimpico, missed two
Ireland shut out the Italians in the second, with tries by Earls and
Murray insuring the Grand Slam champions remain in contention with games
against France and Wales remaining.
Ireland-born Italy flyhalf Ian McKinley missed a stoppage-time penalty as the hosts failed to salvage a losing bonus point.