In the most bizarre circumstances, Ireland made it business as usual as they ran seven tries past Italy at an empty Aviva Stadium. 

The game, which had originally been scheduled for 7 March but was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, served as a welcome return for international rugby and an appetiser for next Saturday's Guinness Six Nations championship clash against France in Paris.

With England heavy favourites to pick up five match points against the Italians next weekend, a bonus-point win for Ireland in Stade de France will be enough to claim the title but Andy Farrell's men will know that Les Bleus at home presents a completely different challenge that what Franco Smith’s side could muster today.

France also remain in the hunt but would have to better England's result against Italy by at least two points.

This game was won thanks to tries from CJ Stander, debutants Hugo Keenan (2) and Will Connors, who was named man of the match, Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan. 

Prior to the lockdown Ireland had registered two wins and a defeat to Scotland, Wales and England, while Italy had lost to Scotland, Wales and France.

The Italians had not beaten their hosts today since 2013, their solitary Six Nations win over Ireland, and never really looked like causing an upset here.


They did open the afternoon's scoring when, after good work by Sebastian Negri and Marcello Violi earned a penalty under the posts, debutant out-half Paolo Garbisi kicked over.

Referee Matthew Carley also decided that Conor Murray should spend 10 minutes in the bin for his part in slowing down the ball with Italy just two metres from the Irish line.

That meant Garry Ringrose had to step in to the scrum-half position and the centre was heavily involved before number 8 Stander got Ireland’s first try following a series of phases under the posts.

Italy were lively and inventive in the opening phases but undone most of their enterprise by conceding mostly needless penalties, racking up seven in the first half alone.

That provided Ireland with a foothold in the Italian half and Keenan opened his international account with a neat finish in the corner when the ball was spread wide by Aki and Robbie Henshaw, who had replaced Ringrose, removed after colliding with Garbisi’s knee as he tried to block a kick. 

Captain Sexton, who kicked six from seven attempts, converted.

Soon after having another score disallowed, Keenan got over again.

Four minutes after grabbing what he thought was his second try when James Ryan was adjudged to have blocked an Italian tackler from getting at Jacob Stockdale, who had burst through the line, the Leinster man did have his brace.

The genesis this time was a brilliant steal by Caelan Doris as Italy piled on the pressure in the Irish 22.

The ball came to Murray in midfield and after initially looking for an inside runner, he spotted the space ahead.

The Munster back dabbed the ball into Keenan’s path and he plucked it up on the run and dotted down to give Ireland a 24-3 half-time lead.

The margin didn’t flatter the hosts, who looked sharper and showed the "intent" that Andy Farrell and his management team had demanded during the week.

But that tempo dropped significantly for the opening 15 minutes of the second half, Ireland failing to get into the Italy 22 and when Sexton swung out a long susceptible pass for Henshaw in the 55th minute, winger Edoardo Padovani was alert, intercepted and ran in unopposed for a converted try.

That spell would have been hugely frustrating for Farrell given he had also called for his charges to be more ruthless about their business. 

However, the vital bonus point was secured in the 61st minute when Connors got on the end of a lineout maul, the Leinster flanker impressive on his first outing in green.

The fifth followed shortly after when Henshaw, Keenan, Stander and Murray broke free from the halfway line setting up Sexton, who crashed over for his 14th Ireland try.

Replacement Peter O’Mahony set up Aki for another try in the 69th minute, the Munster captain offloading in contact to break the Italian line and allow the Connacht centre a clear run in.

Among the second-half surge Ireland emptied their bench, which meant debuts for Leinster pair Jamison Gibson-Park and Ed Byrne.

Replacement hooker Heffernan also got on the scoresheet at the end and just as it looked like Ireland would hold out for a healthy 40-point win, Garbisi cut through the defence for a late converted try, a score that Ireland will hope does not come back to haunt them in the event of the championship coming down to points difference.

Ireland: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Hugo Keenan, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O'Mahony, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw. 

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini, Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (c), Giosue Zilocchi, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolo Cannone, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Jake Polledri. 

Replacements: Gianmarco Lucchesi, Simone Ferrari, Pietro Ceccarelli, David Sisi, Johan Meyer, Maxime Mbanda, Callub Braley, Federico Mori.