Simon Lewis, Chicago
Jordan Larmour grabbed a memorable hat-trick at Soldier Field as eight-try Ireland put Italy to the sword.
Larmour, 21, had a dream first start for his country having made six appearances off the bench in last season’s Grand Slam campaign and the summer series win in Australia but he made the most of the opportunity handed him by head coach Joe Schmidt with three excellent scores and providing scrum-half Luke McGrath with another.
Lock Tadhg Beirne, another player making his first start after an Ireland debut against the Wallabies, opened the scoring and then added another early after the interval to get the ball rolling in a prolific second half.
Jordan Larmour makes a break at Soldier Field. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland, fielding a virtual shadow side to the outfit which secured Six Nations glory, had taken a 14-7 lead into half-time as they struggled to shake off a resilient Italian side, but six second-half tries highlighted the gulf in class between them and Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri.
Ireland got off to a fast start that quickly delivered points.
Wing Jacob Stockdale had collected Carlo Canna’s kick-off and busted a tackle by Italian hooker Luca Bigi to advance 40 metres upfield, signalling his side’s intent not to hang around on a chilly afternoon in Chicago.
Ireland were quickly into the opposition 22 with Garry Ringrose breaking the defensive line and seeming set to score only for a tap tackle from opposite number and Italy captain Michele Campagnaro to send the outside centre sprawling, spilling the ball on contact with the ground.
Yet Italy were struggling to get over their 10-metre line and when Bigi was penalised for not rolling away, Irish captain Rhys Ruddock immediately told fly-half Joey Carbery to kick for the corner.
It was the correct call, lock Beirne receiving the lineout and then finishing the attacking play by thundering over the line for his first Test try in his maiden start, after two appearances off the bench in Australia last summer.
Carbery’s conversion made it 7-0 after just four minutes, an ominous start for the Italians but if an Irish onslaught seemed a distinct possibility, Conor O’Shea’s side had other ideas.
The Azzurri enjoyed long periods of possession and should have got more reward for their efforts, flanker Bram Steyn held up short of the line by Jordan Larmour and Jack Conan on 25 minutes.
Tadhg Beirne score his first of two tries. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland regathered and then regained momentum when right wing Andrew Conway made a confident aerial claim of Luke McGrath’s high box kick to put his side on the front foot, then Larmour taking a Carbery pass with a great line to cut through the Italian defence before feeding support runner scrum-half McGrath to run in a second Irish try.
Carbery converted to make it 14-0 but Italy again rebounded well and closed out the opening half in control, although it took an intercept try from captain Campagnaro to close the gap a minute before the interval.
The centre picked off an inside pass from Ruddock meant for Larmour and raced under the posts, Canna making it a seven-point game with the conversion as Ireland went into the break leading 14-7.
Ireland boss Schmidt switched his hookers at half-time, replacing Niall Scannell with Sean Cronin and the new man made an instant impact, his tackle on scrum-half Tio Tebaldi turning the ball over three minutes into the second half.
Ruddock collected the loose ball with Beirne profiting at the resulting ruck, the Munster lock picking a great line to crash over for his second of the day.
Within three minutes more it was curtains for the Italians.
Carbery’s conversion made it 21-7 and then Larmour punished a lazy, telegraphed pass from opposing full-back Luca Sperando, intercepting on his own 10-metre line and sprinting upfield to grab his maiden Test try on 46 minutes, his fly-half again converting to open a 21-point lead at 28-7.
The floodgates had been opened with that quickfire double and Ireland did not miss a beat as Schmidt cleared his replacements bench.
Hooker Cronin finished off a driving maul on 55 minutes after Ireland had won a scrum penalty in the left corner, Carbery making it five conversions out of five from the tee before making way for Ross Byrne, joined by fellow debutant Will Addison, on for Stockdale but slotting in at full-back.
The incoming fly-half was quickly into action with the boot, Larmour, moved to the wing grabbing his second on 63 minutes after receiving a pass on the left from Ringrose.
He still had plenty of work to do but the 21-year-old cut inside Steyn and then stood up Campagnaro to break into open space and score a wonderful try, Byrne converting.
He would soon add more extras two minutes later when Ringrose got on the scoresheet, profiting from midfield partner Bundee Aki’s good work, drawing in the last two defenders before shifting the ball on for his outside centre to score in the right corner.
That left Byrne with a touchline conversion which he successfully executed to take Ireland into a 49-7 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
There was still time for Larmour to apply the icing to a blistering performance, his solo run down the left wing turning the Italian defence inside out to take his third try of the day and with it the man of the match award on a hugely satisfying second half for Ireland.
IRELAND: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale (W Addison, 60); J Carbery (R Byrne, 60), L McGrath (J Cooney, 65); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne, 50), N Scannell (S Cronin, h-t), A Porter (F Bealham, 58); T Beirne (D Toner, 60), Q Roux; R Ruddock — captain, J van der Flier (J Murphy, 68), J Conan.
ITALY: L Sperandio; M Bellini, M Campagnaro, L Morisi (G Palazzani, 70), G Bisegni; C Canna (I McKinley, 60), T Tebaldi; N Quaglio (C Traore, 21), L Bigi (O Fabiani, 63), T Pasquali (G Zilocchi, 61); M Fuser (M Lazzaroni, 64), G Biagi (F Ruzza, 55); J Meyer, A Steyn, R Giammarioli (J Tuivaiti, 55).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)