Ireland were far too strong for Italy on Sunday, making it two Six Nations’ bonus point wins from two with a dominant 36-0 win at the Aviva Stadium that kept their hopes of defending their grand slam title firmly on track.
Andy Farrell made six changes from the team that swept aside France 38-17 a week ago and while it wasn’t perfect, Ireland successfully flexed their squad depth and Italy simply could not cope with the host’s big ball carriers and fast paced attack.
Two tries from Dan Sheehan and one apiece for Jack Crowley, Jack Conan, James Lowe and Calvin Nash put Ireland two points clear of England at the top of the standings and streets ahead of the competition in the form table.
“Our set piece was phenomenal again, it’s easy when you have platforms like that… Pleased with the result but obviously a few things to work on going forward,” player of the match Lowe said in a pitchside interview.
Ireland’s intent was clear from the get go as they looked to move the ball as quickly as possible, creating gaps through the sheer speed of the phases with flyhalf Crowley crossing over for his first international try on eight minutes.
Crowley was by no means flawless against France as he seeks to make what was Johnny Sexton’s spot his own, but he looked extremely comfortable with ball in hand early on, even if he almost gifted Italy a way back into the game with a loose kick.
Ireland had to be patient as Italy found space of their own, just as they had in defeat by England last week. It was Crowley again with a sublime offload that led to hooker Sheehan scoring his fourth and later fifth try in his last three Six Nations games.
As much as they were stretching the Italians at will, the hosts were scrappy at times and conceded as many penalties as the Italians in the first half. Still, a try from number eight Conan effectively put the game out of sight at 19-0 at halftime.
Conan was one of the six players given the chance to impress from the start and he did just that, as did Leinster team mate Ryan Baird in the backrow while Craig Casey had a busy game at scrumhalf.
Elsewhere in a dominant pack, player of the match in Paris Joe McCarthy was immense at times in attack and defence again in just his seventh cap.
While Sheehan secured the bonus point on 50 minutes, Ireland did not quite manage to cut loose and had to settle for tries from James Lowe and Calvin Nash, even with Tommaso Menoncello sin binned, as the benches emptied and the game petered out.
At the same time Italy never threatened the Irish line in the second half.
The sight of fullback Hugo Keenan leaving the field gingerly in the second half — one of the few positions where Ireland lack notable depth — will be the one big concern as Ireland prepare to face Wales next in two weeks’ time.