Match Report

Ireland stay perfect with nervy win over Italy

James Ryan try SB2000
Ireland overcame a scare in Rome to keep their Grand Slam hopes on track with a tense 34-20 victory over Italy.

Ireland overcame a scare in Rome to keep their Grand Slam hopes on track with a tense 34-20 victory over Italy.

Andy Farrell’s side took the lead inside three minutes at the Stadio Olimpico and looked on course for a comfortable afternoon but were pegged back time and time again.

The world’s No.1 side brought up their bonus-point inside the first half but Italy refused to go away and trailed by just seven points entering the final ten minutes.

Mack Hansen then crossed for the second time to put the game to bed as Ireland breathed a sigh of relief, and will head to Murrayfield in two weeks’ time with their perfect record intact.


Despite half a dozen changes to the side that beat France, Ireland came flying out the traps and thought they were in front inside 90 seconds.

James Lowe tore away down the left flank but let the ball slip from his grasp when diving for the line with Ange Capuozzo in close attendance.

Ireland were not to be denied just a minute later and it was a special moment for James Ryan as he dotted down to score on just his seventh start as captain.

Italy’s new-found fearlessness has attracted admirers from all corners of the globe and that care-free attitude was on show once more for their equalising try.

Making just his second international start of an injury-hit season, Paolo Garbisi floated a miss pass out to Lorenzo Cannone, who powered his way to the five-metre line.

Scrum-half Stephen Varney gave the defence no time to settle and a quick pick and go saw him register his first try in the Championship.

Fly-half Garbisi converted where counterpart Ross Byrne could not and Italy claimed a surprise lead, much to the delight of a vocal Rome crowd.


A frenetic start only became more frenzied as a slick Irish set-piece created space for Hugo Keenan, who shrugged off a couple of defenders before sliding in under the posts to restore Ireland’s lead.

Byrne corrected his earlier miss from the tee to add the extras, though Garbisi soon responded with a penalty to make it 12-10 to the visitors.

Ireland, by contrast, were in no mood to deal in three-pointers and were over in the left corner for their third score, a replica of their first.

Lowe was the provider once more, with his inside pass scooped up by Bundee Aki on this occasion – the centre bundling his way over despite the best efforts of Varney.

The pace of the game finally settled as half-time approached but Ireland were just as rampant in attack and crossed on the opposite wing courtesy of Hansen, with Italy punished to the max following a succession of penalties.

That appeared to be it for an exhausting first-half but Pierre Bruno found some extra gas, picking off an intercept to run 65 metres and slide home under the posts.

Andy Farrell had already headed for the changing rooms by the time Bruno made a brilliant defensive read, leaving the scores 24-17 at half time.


Ireland regained their composure after the interval and dominated the opening exchanges but there was no way through with Italy stealing a line-out just five metres short of their line.

Garbisi cleared and two penalties later was within range of the posts. He made no mistake and cut the deficit to just four points with 25 minutes to play.

By this stage, frustration was mounting for Ireland with Aki adjudged to have fumbled the ball forward just inches short of the line according to TMO Marius Jonker.

And with Italy in touching distance, a change in tact was required. After replacement Ryan Baird won a penalty near the 10-metre line, Byrne nailed a penalty between the sticks to restore the seven-point advantage.

A tremendous surge from Giovanni Pettinelli then took Italy to within a couple of strides of the whitewash but the attack came to an abrupt halt when Juan Ignacio Brex’s kick crossed the dead ball line.

Ireland then showed their class, taking Italy through 20 energy-sapping phases before Conor Murray unleashed Hansen for his second score, with the flyer stepping away from Capuozzo before touching down under the posts for the game-clinching score on an absorbing afternoon.