Ireland teaches Azzurri a harsh lesson
SIX NATIONS REPORT: Ireland showed Italy exactly how much ground they have to make up to be competitive in the Test arena.
The margin of the 56-19 (eight tries to three) victory was perhaps a bit flattering to the Azzurri scored all their tries in the last 25 minutes - when the Irishmen took their collective feet off the gas.
There will be a concern in the Ireland camp over the injuries of to Robbie Henshaw (elbow) and Tadhg Furling (hamstring).
They will be massive losses if they are ruled out for any length of time.
The win made it a ninth successive Test victory for Joe Schmidt's side and inflicted a 14th consecutive Six Nations defeat on the Italians, which equals their worst ever run in the competition they joined in 2000.
Credit to the Italians. They continued playing - instead of throwing in the towel - even after they went down 0-42.
"It was good at times. The first half we started really well but in the second half we were a bit sloppy and forcing things rather than sticking to our gameplan," Keith Earls, the scorer of Ireland's fourth try, said.
"We're happy but we'll always find something to work on. We scored some really good tries and a few from turnovers."
Italy for their part fought to the end, scoring three second-half tries but slipped to their 14th successive Six Nations defeat, equalling their previous worst run in the tournament.
Ireland made their intentions clear early on as Johnny Sexton went for touch instead of the posts, but the Italians managed to hold Conor Murray up as he crossed the line.
However, there was nothing the Italian defence could do to prevent Henshaw going over from a few metres out for his third Test try - Sexton converting for 7-0.
Three minutes later and Jack Conan marked his first Six Nations start with a lovely offload to Murray who was given a free run to the line for his 11th Test try - Sexton converted superbly from the touchline to give the Irish a 14-0 lead after a quarter of an hour.
The Italians were left shell-shocked when Bundee Aki crashed over to mark the 27-year-old New Zealand-born centre's first try for his adopted country leaving the Irish just one try short of their bonus point aim with only 20 minutes gone.
Aki then turned creator as he made a terrific break to set up wing Earls to go over and seal the bonus point, Sexton's conversion sending the Irish in 28-0 up at the break.
Henshaw added his second try early in the second-half but landed in obvious agony on his shoulder, his leg beating against the ground through the pain. But that opened the way for the much-anticipated Test debut of 20-year-old Jordan Larmour.
Sexton converted for the fifth time but alongside man of the match, Murray was withdrawn on 50 minutes.
That didn't stop the onslaught as Rory Best went over and Joey Carbery added the conversion.
However, with the game long gone the Italians found some spark and Tommaso Castello got the better of Dan Leavy to release Tommaso Allan with the fly-half going over and converting his try to put Italy on the scoreboard with just over 20 minutes to go.
The Irish, though, went over for another touchdown as Stockdale came in from his wing and took Carbery's pass to score.
The visitors struck back with a second try as old warhorse Sergio Parisse's pass was eventually gathered by Edoardo Gori, who went over.
Stockdale then scored a superb solo try, outstripping Jayden Hayward to touch down in the corner.
The visitors at least had the last laugh in terms of scoring as fullback Matteo Minozzi rounded off a move in the corner.
Man of the match: There are choices aplenty. However, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, with their pace and power, caused the Italian defence enormous nightmares. Henshaw may have scored two tries, but Aki caused most of the damage.
Tries: Henshaw 2, Murray, Aki, Earls, Best, Stockdale 2
Cons: Sexton 5, Carberry 3
Tries: Allan, Gori, Minozzi
Cons: Allan 2
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri Da Oleggio, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Maxime Mata Mbanda, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
Agence France-Presse & rugby365com