Ireland secured their first win of the 2022 TikTok Six Nations, and the team’s first under new boss Greg McWilliams, with a convincing, bonus-point victory over Italy at Musgrave Park on Sunday afternoon.
As the Irish Examiner reports, Beaten in Dublin by Wales in the first round, the Irish suffered a heavy loss away to France second time out, but they were utterly dominant for long stretches against an Italian side that had lost to the French and England and forced into a handful of late changes.
Italy started superbly, putting together a slick succession of attacking plays and taking their reward in the form of a fourth-minute penalty from Beatrice Rigoni, but the visitors never made proper use of the strong wind at their back in that half.
Ireland’s initial efforts were thwarted by individual errors and a lineout lost in the Italian 22, but their execution improved as that opening period wound on and everything came together in the 21st-minute for the opening try.
A series of pick and goes from a lineout close to the Italian line sucked in the defence just enough for Nicole Cronin to float a lovely skip pass up over the last defender to Lucy Mulhall and they should have had another on the half-hour.
Here again, Ireland’s skillset was excellent, starting with a chip kick over the top by Cronin for Stacey Flood and progressing through a number of phases before Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe skipped through a pair of tackles on the right wing to touch down.
Referee Aurelie Groizeleau thought otherwise, the French official decreeing that Murphy Crowe had been tackled to the ground by Manuela Furlan. The replays suggested otherwise but the discussion with the TMO didn’t fall in Ireland’s favour.
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No try, but Italy’s discipline and execution wasn’t doing them any favours by now, and they never really lifted the siege on their line, eventually paying a heavy price with No.8 Elisa Giordano earning a yellow card for the mounting penalty count.
Ireland, whose lineout was an issue up to this, were looking much better out of touch, and it was from here that they mined the second try before the break with a Hannah O’Connor take and punishing maul ending with Neve Jones barrelling over.
Two missed conversions from Cronin meant it was just 10-3 at the interval, but Ireland create extra breathing room shortly after the restart when Eve Higgins ran on to a Kathryn Dane kick after Hannah O’Connor’s ruck turnover on the halfway line.
Dane’s kick was really a skewed Garryowen but it was a scrap of luck the hosts had earned and, while Cronin claimed the extras, she was absolved of any need to kick at goal less than ten minutes later when Ireland were awarded a penalty try.
With the bonus point secured, and 24-3 in front, they were flying.
Among those brought on was Aoife Wafer whose debut was marked by a yellow card for an illegal clearout and Italy followed that rare break up with a try from a lineout maul for Melissa Bettoni eight minutes from time.
It was their first win of the Championship.
Next up for Ireland is England at Welford Road: the world’s top side away from home.