Ireland bounced back from their defeat by Scotland to earn the first Six Nations four-try bonus point and a stack of records in drubbing Italy 63-10 in Rome.
The Irish got their title hopes back on track with try hat-tricks from flanker CJ Stander and replacement winger Craig Gilroy. All nine of Ireland’s tries were converted, seven by Paddy Jackson and two by replacement Ian Keatley on a balmy afternoon.
Ireland’s first tournament hat-tricks in 15 years propelled the side to their highest ever score in the tournament, eclipsing the 60-13 win over Italy in 2000.
All of the home side’s points came in the first half from a converted penalty try and a Carlo Canna penalty.
“The final score put a nice shine on [the match], but at the same time we did work a lot of good scores,” stand-in captain Jamie Heaslip said. “We were a lot more clinical [than in the opening loss to Scotland].”
Heaslip wore the armband because Rory Best was ruled out because of a stomach bug. Niall Scannell made his Test debut at hooker, and he looked like a veteran.
Unlike at Murrayfield the previous weekend, when Scotland led 21-5 inside half an hour, Ireland burst out of the blocks in Rome to earn the four-try bonus point after 34 minutes. Stander bulldozed through four defenders.
Stander and Earls scored two tries each in the first half, as the Irish attacked in waves, narrowed the Italian defence, and struck on the wings.
Stander was first to the hat-trick right after half-time. Put into a gap, he ran around full-back Edoardo Padovani to become the first forward in 55 years to score three tries in a match in the tournament, and only the third ever.
And it was a year after the South African-born Stander made his Ireland debut, another man-of-the-match effort.
“[He’s] got a fantastic engine, he just keeps working away,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said.
Two minutes after Stander’s treble, Craig Gilroy replaced Robbie Henshaw and moved to the right wing. He scored a hat-trick in 14 minutes, around Garry Ringrose’s solo try.
Gilroy’s second try came from a crossfield kick by Stander, the kind of kick Schmidt hoped his flanker wouldn’t show again in future. The third and last try of the match came in injury time, as Ireland offloaded and Stander almost bagged his fourth.
But the ball was spun right and Gilroy was given an overlap that he ran in behind the posts. Jackson’s ninth conversion tied for the most in tournament history with Jonny Wilkinson’s nine against Italy in 2001. Italy’s ninth straight loss in the championship was a sobering first match for coach Conor O’Shea against his homeland. He played 35 times for the Irish in the 1990s.
“It was difficult because in the first 20 minutes we took wave after wave,” O’Shea said. “That’s the gap and the level when you make mistakes.”