Ireland player ratings vs Italy - 2021 Six Nations

By Liam Heagney

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The inevitable came to pass in Rome, Ireland getting their expected Guinness Six Nations win over Italy who continue to play rugby by repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. The Azzurri were a penalty-ridden rabble, so naughty that they eventually wound up coming down the finishing straight with two men yellow-carded and in the bin. 


Ireland, though, will be frustrated that they didn’t better exploit this weakness in their 48-10 win. Ahead 27-10 at the break with an XV containing eleven starting Leinster players, including the entire backline, they secured the bonus point try just three minutes after the restart but their performance from there left much to be desired as the game unravelled into an error-strewn spectacle. 

They weren’t helped in having scores for CJ Stander and James Lowe chalked off, but their return of just a single try in the closing 37 minutes of play before replacement Keith Earls got over in added time to add a second didn’t reflect well on their attack which has been a persistent cause for concern since Mike Catt was taken on by Andy Farrell. 

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With less possession in the opening half, they looked way more effective in creating scores but when possession became an abundance, they struggled at times figuring out what best to do with it against an opposition beaten 10-50 by France in Rome at the start of February and beaten again 18-41 when away to England in round two. 

It was 18 weeks ago when Ireland, with a team containing eight Leinster starters but just three in the backs, comfortably defeated the Italians in Dublin on a seven-try, 50-17 scoreline in a rearranged 2020 Six Nations match.

That 33-point margin was eventually stretched out to here 38 points with Earls’ late converted score and while there were plenty positives from the opening half to draw a line after suffering their worst start in a championship since 1998, there will be plenty of hemming and hawing regarding how the second half played out with Ireland’s attack lacking clinical finishing and leaving plenty questions ahead of the March 14 trip to Scotland. That is an analysis for another day. Here’s how their players rated against the Italians:  


It was against the Italians four months ago that Keenan announced his arrival at Test level, scoring twice on his debut. He packed in a heck of a lot of development since then and he was inevitably on the scoreboard here again, running a beautiful support line on 31 minutes to take an offload out of the contact from Garry Ringrose. Didn’t have much involvements in the second half which was a pity. 

A first Test start for the youngster since the Six Nations loss to England twelve months ago, he was the clean catcher of some early restart Italy kicks from half-way. Took 31 minutes to produce his first attacking gallop, his support down the short-side setting the ruck that led to Keenan’s score on the other side of the field. Then popped up on the left wing to give Will Connors the assist for his try five minutes later but was left grasping at air when Johan Meyer blasted over for his score on the blow of half-time. Didn’t return for the second-half, Earls stepping in as Larmour had a hip flexor issue.   

Scored the opening try on eleven minutes when Ireland were operating off multiple penalty advantages for Italian offsides. Got stuck at a penalty conceding ruck nine minutes later, but was exquisite when offloading the assist for Keenan to score their second try. Carried well at times in the second half but didn’t have the clout to better unlock the jumbled Italian defence.  

Looked quiet in terms of the general picture of the first-half but was actually very busy when what he did contribute was more closely looked at. Was the first Irish player to try and offload in the tackle and it stuck. As with Ringrose, didn’t dictate enough at times in the second-half with Ireland more frequently on the front foot but still stood out. Stayed around for 71 minutes until Billy Burns came on.  


11. JAMES LOWE – 6
As much as Lowe can mightily kick a ball and as decent as he is running with it, his defensive lapses cost Ireland in recent weeks. With Italy not posing that same threat as Wales and France, the focus here was on him providing more go-forward and while he did exhibit some neat feet when beating his man on the outside on mine minutes, it was frustrating on occasions to see him kick rather than take a run at the cagey Italian defence. He did run far more after the break and would have had a try on 69 minutes but for a forward pass, but there is much more in him as regularly seen at Leinster.

Fit-again following his head knock in Wales, his display in Cardiff reignited the debate about his durability and general lack of stellar form. He got Ireland on the board with a game-levelling sixth-minute penalty here and finished the opening half with a dozen points off the kicking tee, going in to score 18 in all. Ran a fine line to be the architect of the first Connors try. With Ireland having their bonus secured early in the second half, the hope was that Sexton would release the handbrake but he didn’t have it in his gift to get that job impressively done.

Farrell has been under mounting criticism for continuing to back the New Zealander whose pass away from the breakdown has been in a need of a serious hurry-up and whose box kicking required better hang time for possession to be better contested. Improved his efforts here in the first half but it must be remembered this was against lowly Italy. Messed up with one quickly tapped penalty, infringing when eventually tackled, but looked effective sniping down the short-side in the lead-up to Keenan’s game-breaking try. Gave way to the debut-making Craig Casey on 64 minutes who went on to look lively. 

This was only the 32-year-old’s second-ever Six Nations start, the loosehead getting the jump on the lethargic Cian Healy, and he went well, looking hungry to carry which is something lacking in Healy’s game. He won a crucial penalty at the game’s opening scrum on 27 minutes, the 50/50 decision going his way at a set-piece where Italy had a put-in five metres from the try line. The score was only 13-3 at that juncture.  He did concede a scrum penalty with the first-half clock in the red, but there was a heck of a difference in Italy scoring a try when behind 27-3 than earlier on. Departed with a knock on 46 minutes and failed his HIA. A soft 53rd-minute knock-on by Healy exemplified how the ball isn’t a friend of the front row veteran, unlike Kilcoyne. 

A first Six Nations start for the youngster was long-awaited as many fans had been wondering whether Rob Herring was the real deal. A try-scorer off the bench against the French, he started here by conceding the game’s first penalty for not releasing the tackled player but he soon redeemed himself when winning a seventh-minute penalty turnover. Showed confidence in his throwing, going long over the top at one stage to Henshaw. Exhibited ball-carrying inexperience at this level when a maul foolishly went into touch but was a nice wraparound foil in the lead up to the Connors try. There was one second half lineout error but he showed guts, his quick tap leading to the Stander try that was ruled out on 63 minutes. He injured himself in the process but not seriously and did enough to suggest he will start against the Scots.  

Was a sight for sore Irish eyes in his first Test start since Twickenham in February last year. No disrespect to Andrew Porter, who is a fine operator, which level in class goes up a few notches when Furlong is firing and he was at the races here after some teething troubles. He was pinged for not rolling, giving Italy their short-lived fourth-minute lead, while he gave up a free-kick at the first scrum engagement for going early. Outside of that, though, he was excellent during his 47-minute contribution that ended with am ankle issue. Porter arrived and helped turn the screw in the scrum.  

Having inked his contract IRFU contract extension in midweek, it was time for the lock to show some value for money and a refereeing gaffe denied him the opening try on eight minutes when he appeared to have grounded the ball sufficiently enough. Was initially the nuisance that was required in slowing down Italian possession at the breakdown. Quieter after the break, he gave way on 64 minutes for the debut-making Ryan Baird who quickly looked smart when fastening onto a loose ball. 

Back in the mix following his absence against the French, there were times he appeared frustrated with Italian carry-on at the breakdown. Didn’t manage to get on the ball as much as he usually does which became an issue in the second half for an Ireland attack searching for ideas to expose a vulnerable Italy in the collision zone.   

In for just his fourth start at blindside following recent selections at second row, ponderous Italian ball play was meat and drink to his style of play. Showed his nuisance value by spoiling a 24th-minute Italian throw near the Irish line and continued like that all the way through to end up getting the official man of the match award. 

A Test debut maker in October when Ireland last played Italy, Connors had lost out in recent selections to Josh van der Flier but he was immense here. Two first-half incidents summed up his industry, making tackles before then releasing and foraging for the ball off the Italian carrier. He was successful twice with this gambit and was fully deserving of his first try on 36 minutes. Added a second try on 66 minutes to break a 20-plus minute period without an Irish score. Expect to see him at openside against Scotland.  

Came up with the bonus point score on 43 minutes and nearly had another 20 minutes later but for a knock-on elsewhere. Didn’t dominate in the second-half carry, though, which should be a worry for Farrell. He was also given an almighty sit-down by one Cherif Traore carry. Jack Conan replaced him late on.

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Ireland player ratings vs Italy - 2021 Six Nations