Italy 20-34 Ireland: Hansen strikes twice as Farrell's side maintain Grand Slam charge
Ireland kept their Six Nations Grand Slam charge on track after a 34-20 victory over a spirited Italy in Rome.
Mack Hansen crossed twice while stand-in captain James Ryan, Hugo Keenan and Bundee Aki also went over at Stadio Olimpico for Andy Farrell's side, who recorded their third straight bonus-point win in this year’s tournament.
Although without the injured Johnny Sexton, the visitors registered their 23rd Six Nations win over Italy in 24 attempts – and 10th on the bounce.
Despite a determined display, the hosts continued their dismal record on home soil, where they have now suffered 24 successive defeats since beating Ireland 10 years ago.
Ireland came flying out the blocks, and although TMO denied James Lowe the opening try after just 90 seconds, the Leinster wing soon turned provider for Ryan to cross.
Having pushed reigning champions France all the way in their Six Nations opener, Italy responded with Stephen Varney going over after a rapid burst from Lorenzo Cannone.
But the visitors soon established control. Keenan broke through and rode challenges to regain the lead, while a series of sharp offloads enabled Aki and Hansen to cross in the corners.
Italy gave themselves hope before the break as Pierre Bruno intercepted Aki's offload on halfway to dash for the line.
A tight second half ensued with the hosts drawing on all their defensive resolve to prevent Ireland from extending their advantage as Paolo Garbisi and Ross Byrne exchanged kicks.
But the visitors finally put the result beyond doubt nine minutes from time when a neat offload released Hansen, who made no mistake in claiming his second try.
Byrne fills Sexton void
It was all change in the 9-10 axis for Ireland, who were deprived of talisman Sexton due to injury, while Conor Murray also missed out as Farrell made six changes from the victory over France.
However, Leinster's Byrne filled in adequately at fly-half – kicking four of his six kicks, meaning he is now seven from nine (78 per cent) in this year's Six Nations.
Hansen at the double
The Connaught wing scored the joint-most points in the contest (10 along with Garbisi) after crossing twice in the same game for the first time at senior international level.
Hansen was in the right place to round off a swift move in the first half, while his quick feet enabled him to break away and seal the victory late on.
Key Opta Facts
- Ireland have now won each of their last 10 Six Nations matches against Italy, however, the 20 points they conceded was their most against the Azzurri since losing to them in Rome in 2013 (15-22).
- Italy have now scored 14-plus points in each of their last five Six Nations games after failing to do so in any of their previous six; they also scored two first-half tries for the first time since February 2019, also in Rome v Ireland.
- Ireland became just the second ever side to score four-plus tries in their first three games of a Six Nations campaign, alongside England in 2001; they have now scored four-plus tries in five consecutive Six Nations games, the joint-longest run of any side in the competition's history, alongside England between 2003 and 2004.
- James Lowe provided two try assists for the first time in a single match in his Test rugby career; he has now registered nine direct try involvements in the Guinness Six Nations since the start of last year's Championship, at least three more than any other player during that time.
Ireland's Grand Slam challenge resumes at Murrayfield when they face Scotland on March 12. The day before, Italy aim to respond by claiming a second successive victory over Wales in Rome.