Rory Best crossed and Jacob Stockdale scored twice as Ireland run eight tries past a shambolic Italy side in round two of the 2018 Natwest Six Nations.

Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Keith Earls were the other try scorers as Ireland move to the stop of the table, ahead of England on points difference.

From the outset Ireland looked far more dangerous in the backline than they were in 80 minutes last week and they were duly rewarded. A break from Stockdale allowed Ireland possession five metres out and after a scrum was awarded for the ball being held up, Robbie Henshaw picked a strong line to bulldoze over.

We really saw Ireland play what was in front of them in the build up for Conor Murray’s try. A matter of minutes after their opening score, quick hands from Jack Conan, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale allowed the Munsterman an easy run from the 10m line.

Bundee Aki scored his first try in an Irish jersey to effectively end the game as a contest. Aki crashed over in a similar fashion to Henshaw but a great kick from Johnny Sexton put the Italian defence under pressure. Stockdale and Henshaw applied pressure forcing an Irish lineout ten metres from the try line.

Ireland secured the bonus point try five minutes before half time. Dan Leavy was quickest to the breakdown to turn the ball over and with the Italian defence scrambling, Aki spotted a gap and a simple fix and give allowed Keith Earls to score.

Not only was the bonus point important, but it allowed Joe Schmidt to experiment in the second half. Quinn Roux came on at half time while Jordan Larmour, Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery were all introduced within ten minutes of the restart. As stated before, if Ireland are to secure their first semi final appearance in RWC2019, they need a good core of back up players that will sync effortlessly into the system if injuries occur.

Despite wholesale changes, Ireland kept up their momentum and a Robbie Henshaw interception scored Ireland’s fifth try. The sixth was added ten minutes later. After constant pressure on the Italian line, Rory Best crashed over from a rolling maul.

Italy got the first of three consolation tries through Tommaso Allan. Dan Leavy was beaten on the outside by Tommaso Castello and the Italians converted a simple two-on-one. This was quickly answered by another Irish try and the first for Jacob Stockdale. The former Wallace High man followed the ball as it got into Joey Carbery’s hands before exploiting the space. His trail running is Stockdale’s best attribute as he makes him so dangerous to defend against.

Stockdale added his second and completed the route for Ireland on 70 minutes with another intercepted try after Edoardo Gori crossed for Italy. Matteo Minozzi crossed with five minutes left.

Despite the two tries, Stockdale didn’t have his busiest game but showed great poacher’s instinct for his tries. Rory Best gave a typically reliable performance while Iain Henderson was impressive in the 40 minutes he was on the pitch. Henderson is quickly becoming a favourite for Joe Schmidt and has showed great maturity since returning from the British and Lions Tour of New Zealand in the summer.

This depth was tested. Tadhg Furlong was injured early on allowing Andrew Porter an extended time on the pitch. Porter performed well in the scrums while carried hard. After his second try, Henshaw succumbed to a dislocated shoulder and will miss the rest of tournament. Schmidt now has a decision to make with Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell all being capped in the Autumn Internationals and in line to start in the centre.

It was a professional performance, but the ante will be upped when Wales travel to face Ireland in Dublin on February 24th (14:15). Wales will make Ireland work for the scores a lot harder than Italy did.

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadgh Furlong, Iain Henderson, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, CJ Stander, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour

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