Rugby: Ireland dominate Italy to keep Six Nations championship defence alive

Ireland have been far too strong for Italy, 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.

Ben Sheehan celebrates a try against Italy.
Ben Sheehan celebrates a try against Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We're aware of the threat that Italy's attack brings, so to keep them to zero is very pleasing," said captain Caelan Doris, after Ireland kept a Six Nations opponent scoreless for the first time since 1987.

"The temptation sometimes, when there are a lot of changes, and guys are getting opportunities is to try and impress individually, but we spoke about sticking to our systems, making each other look good and I think we did for the most part."

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 the Johnny Sexton-vacated 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. Crowley again made 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 11 penalties to Italy's nine over the 80 minutes. Still, a try from No.8 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 teammate Ryan Baird in the backrow, while Craig Casey had a busy game at scrumhalf.

Elsewhere in a dominant pack that were perfect in the lineout for the second successive game, Paris Player of the Match 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 sinbinned, as the benches emptied and the game petered out.

Manning one of the few positions where Ireland lack notable depth, fullback Hugo Manning left the field with a bang on his knee in the second half and Farrell says the medical staff will see in the morning if it needs to be looked at.

While Italy coach Gonzalo Quesada concedes there was little his side could do, they were frustrated not to put more pressure on Ireland and avoid a first scoreless outing since a 33-0 defeat by England two years ago.

"We don't lie to ourselves," he said. "We know we have some limits, but the hardest part is when you feel the guys are doing what is supposed to be done in the week and then you cannot prove it a bit more on the pitch."