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Ireland leads 6 Nations after dispatching Italy 50-17

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland will lead the Six Nations into the last round after accounting for Italy 50-17 in a deserted Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

The first Six Nations match in more than seven months completed the penultimate round suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ireland will go to France next week needing another bonus-point win to claim a fourth title in six years. But while Ireland leads the championship, England has the easier last matchup, Italy in Rome. England has never lost to Italy, and Italy hasn’t won any Six Nations match since 2015.

Ireland spoke respectfully of Italy in the buildup, but made its four-try bonus-point intentions known early when it eschewed penalty kicks to set up attacking lineouts. The strategy worked, as three of Ireland’s first four tries were launched from lineouts, including the important fourth in the 61st minute.

At that point, Ireland led 31-10, and Irish thinking turned to scoring as much as it could in case points differential becomes decisive next Saturday in the final tally.

The Irish added three more tries to total seven, but a rush to kick off with time up backfired when new Italy flyhalf Paolo Garbisi ghosted through the Irish and touched down between the posts. He converted his try and the Irish would not have been happy with the late concession.

What they could be happy about was the introduction of flanker Will Connors and wing Hugo Keenan, Jacob Stockdale’s first senior start at fullback, and their ability to pinch Italian ball or.

Italy lost six of its nine rucks by halftime, and four of its nine turnovers, as it struggled to recycle ball. The half also saw Italy concede seven of its total 10 penalties, giving Ireland plenty of attacking options.

From a turnover, Ireland went for the lineout and No. 8 CJ Stander barged over in the ninth minute while scrumhalf Conor Murray was in the sin-bin for a professional foul.

Captain Jonathan Sexton took the penalty kick after a collapsed Italy scrum, but waived another penalty shot in the 30th. A lineout, rolling maul, and quick hands out left gave Keenan momentum to crash through three Italians for his first try.

Keenan finished a seemingly brilliant second try two minutes later, but Stockdale’s 40-meter break was eased by teammate James Ryan blocking opposite lock Niccolo Cannone and the try was rubbed out.

Remarkably, Keenan had to wait only four more minutes to score again. Italy went through 17 phases to be within 10 meters of the Irish line, but flanker Caelan Doris stole the ruck ball and ran, Murray kicked ahead and Keenan scooped up and became the first Irishman in seven years to score two tries on debut.

Ireland’s fourth try was delayed by Italy wing Edoardo Padovani, in his first test since the Rugby World Cup a year ago, intercepting Sexton and running 50 meters clean to the posts.

Soon after, Connors scored Ireland’s fourth from a lineout drive.

The only conversion Sexton missed was for his own try, after Stander and Doris ran over Italians. Bundee Aki and replacement hooker Dave Heffernan also scored and Ireland put 50 on Italy for the fourth time in five matches.

But the restart in injury time was dropped by Peter O’Mahony, and Italy attacked. Garbisi, only 20, broke two tackles and dummied a third to be the third newcomer in the match to score on debut. He finished the match as he started it, with a goalkick.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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