Rugby

Jack Crowley opens international account as Ireland ease to win against Italy

The fly-half has gone 45 appearances for Munster without touching down.

Jack Crowley scores Ireland’s first try of the game
Ireland v Italy – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium Jack Crowley scores Ireland’s first try of the game (Niall Carson/PA)

Jack Crowley claimed an overdue first senior try as Ireland continued their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a resounding 36-0 bonus-point win over Italy in Dublin.

The fly-half, who is tasked with filling the void left by retired number 10 Johnny Sexton, has gone 45 appearances for Munster without touching down.

He opened his international account inside seven minutes of his 11th Test to help the reigning champions back up a crushing opening weekend demolition of pre-tournament favourites France.

Dan Sheehan registered two of Ireland’s five further tries to take his tournament tally to three, while Jack Conan, man of the match James Lowe and Calvin Nash were also on the scoresheet for a team captained by Caelan Doris.

Ireland’s display could certainly have been more ruthless but it was more than enough to dispatch the championship’s perennial wooden spoon winners and secure a 17th successive home win.

Andy Farrell’s men remain on course to become the first side to win back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams ahead of hosting Wales on February 24 and March appointments with England and Scotland.

Italy arrived at a sold-out Aviva Stadium as overwhelming underdogs and seeking a first championship success on Irish soil on the back of a positive performance in a three-point defeat to England.

Calvin Nash celebrates after scoring Ireland’s sixth try
Ireland v Italy – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium Calvin Nash celebrates after scoring Ireland’s sixth try (Brian Lawless/PA)

Paolo Garbisi shanked an early penalty to give the Azzurri the lead, before Ireland scrum-half Craig Casey released provincial team-mate Crowley to gleefully register a landmark five points.

The seventh-minute score initially did little to settle the hosts amid a subdued Sunday afternoon atmosphere, which faded fast from eight-year-old Stevie Mulrooney performing a rousing rendition of Ireland’s Call.

Farrell’s starting XV, showing six personnel changes from Marseille, initially looked disjointed as the contest descended into a scrappy affair.

Energetic bursts from Hugo Keenan momentarily lifted the crowd and led to a second score in the 24th minute, with Crowley, Stuart McCloskey and Robbie Henshaw ultimately combining to tee up Sheehan.

Blasts of Zombie by the Cranberries – the team’s World Cup anthem – greeted each Ireland try and rang out again three minutes before the break when Conan bulldozed across the line after Joe McCarthy was held up.

Ireland had the bonus point in the bag within five minutes of the restart as hooker Sheehan, who also crossed against Les Bleus, claimed his second try of the afternoon.

Centre Henshaw was perhaps harshly denied a score due to an adjudged double movement before grounding.

But Ireland, who saw full-back Keenan limp off with an apparent leg issue, would not be denied for long.

James Lowe (centre) impressed for Ireland
Ireland v Italy – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium James Lowe (centre) impressed for Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

Impressive Leinster wing Lowe added further gloss to the scoreboard with a powerful 62nd-minute finish, shortly after Italy centre Tommaso Menoncello was sent to the sin bin for illegally stopping him by sticking out a leg.

Following Garbisi’s wayward penalty, outclassed Italy offered little attacking threat and rarely entered the hosts’ 22.

Another fruitless trip to the Irish capital was compounded two minutes from time when Munster wing Nash collected Jamison Gibson-Park’s pass to score for the second week in a row, with replacement 10 Harry Byrne slotting the extras to add to two Crowley conversions.