Ireland labour to 26-16 bonus-point victory over Italy

Ireland’s defence of their Six Nations crown remains alive but only just after a laboured bonus-point win over Italy.

Quinn Roux, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls and Conor Murray scored the tries as the champions held on for victory.

Italy led at half-time with tries from Edoardo Padovani and Luca Morisi but were unable to score after the break.

Replacement Ian McKinley missed a stoppage-time penalty as Italy could not even salvage the losing bonus point their efforts deserved.

The win sends Ireland up to third place in the championship table but Joe Schmidt’s side will now need a massive slice of luck to retain their title.

Italy’s run of Six Nations defeats stretches to 20 but head coach Conor O’Shea will take encouragement from a superb first-half display that left Ireland rattled at the break.

Joe Schmidt was frustrated’ with lack of rhythm from Ireland

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton stalked off the field in the dying minutes and swung a kick at a water bottle on a frustrating night for the holders.

Needing to win by a large margin to boost their title credentials, Ireland went in search of tries from the off but were ultimately undone by their own handling and line-out inaccuracies.

Italy threatened to produce a major scare as they came charging back from 3-12 behind to lead 16-12 at the break, but the tries by Earls and Murray at least insured the Grand Slam champions remain in contention with two rounds remaining.

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