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'A bit like the All Blacks some years ago': Ireland's Six Nations statement, rival coach's ultimate compliment

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11th February, 2024
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Ireland have proved 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 on Sunday (Monday AEDT) 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.

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

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“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 five-eighth Crowley crossing over for his first international try on eight minutes.

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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.

Italy's Stephen Varney (blocked) stops Ireland's Dan Sheehan from scoring a try during the Guinness Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024. (Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

Ireland’s Dan Sheehan. (Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

A try from No.8 Conan effectively put the game out of sight at 19-0 at halftime.

He 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 back-row while Craig Casey had a busy game at halfback.

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.

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Fullback Hugo Keenan – manning one of the few positions where Ireland lack notable depth – left the field with a bang on his knee in the second half and Farrell said the medical staff would see in the morning if it needs to be looked at.

While Italy coach Gonzalo Quesada conceded 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, 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,” Quesada said.

He did, however, pay Ireland the ultimate compliment by comparing them to the All Blacks.

“Ireland were a bit like the All Blacks some years ago,” Quesada said.

“They just go through their basics and because their set piece was 100 per cent efficient, they did what we know they can do. When Ireland are at this level, there are not many teams in the world that can beat them.”

© AAP

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