Ireland went top of the Six Nations table with a 38-9 victory over Italy at Rome’s Stadio Flaminio on Sunday.
The Emerald Isle never came close to the heights they reached a week ago in their thrilling 30-21 defeat of France, but they didn’t have to as Italy once again committed rugby suicide.
Man of the match Luke Fitzgerald admitted that it had taken a while for the Irish to get their act together.
“We made a few errors and made it tough for ourselves,” said Fitzgerald, who scored his first two international tries. “The turning point was the second try.”
A week ago, Italy had suffered a disastrous start against England by losing their own line-out deep inside their 22 before Andy Goode touched down just 90 seconds in.
Here they shot themselves in the foot again, this time after a mere 45 seconds as full-back Andrea Masi was sin-binned for a high tackle on his opposite number Robert Kearney.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Six Nations outsiders didn’t buckle and Australian-born fly-half Luke McLean kicked over a penalty on four minutes for a 3-0 lead.
Italy were more than competitive in the early stages and benefited from Ireland twice choosing to kick penalties to the corner rather than having a pop at goal, as Ronan O’Gara got put off by the breeze.
Italy held firm and McLean doubled their advantage on 16 minutes with another penalty.
However, the error-prone Italians made a costly mistake on 19 minutes when Tommy Bowe picked off a long pass from Paul Griffen aimed at Mirco Bergamasco and ran fully 60m with three Italians in tow before touching down, despite Kaine Robertson’s last ditch tackle.
Ronan O’Gara kicked the extra points, but McLean continued his impeccable place-kicking on 24 minutes to give the hosts a 9-7 lead.
O’Gara was then sin-binned just past the half-hour mark for tackling Gonazalo Canale without the ball, but McLean narrowly missed the resultant penalty.
Ireland continued their tactic of going for the try despite being in penalty territory and when Salvatore Perugini was also shown yellow late on in the half, Ireland began a series of phases that would ultimately lead to success.
Italy looked like they would hold out until the break, but Stephen Ferris broke the line on the 18th phase and offloaded to Fitzgerald to touch down for his first international try with just two seconds left to the whistle.
Kearney kicked the extra two points as underdogs Italy turned around with a morale-sapping 14-9 deficit.
And within seven minutes of the restart things had gone from bad to worse for the hosts as Griffen missed a tackle on marauding No. 8 Jamie Heaslip, who strode to within a meter of the line before he was brought down by Matteo Pratichetti.
A couple of phases later, flanker David Wallace broke two tackles for a simple score and O’Gara’s conversion made it 21-9 to the visitors.
Italy kept plugging away until the final five minutes when two more mistakes were ruthlessly punished by Ireland to give the score a lop-sided look.
Italy switched off at a line-out that Fitzgerald took quickly to Gordon D’Arcy before accepting the return ball and going over for his second try of the game.
Moments later, Ireland skipper Brian O’Driscoll picked off a long pass from Masi before running unopposed 60m to score and move second on the all-time Six Nations try scoring list with 19.