Ireland end win drought with nine-try rout of Italy
Ireland piled up nine tries against sorry Italy in Dublin, romping home 58-15 to set up a mid-table RBS Six Nations finish.
Jamie Heaslip bagged a brace, with Andrew Trimble, Jack McGrath, CJ Stander, Jared Payne, Sean Cronin, Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden also crossing.
Ireland's third-largest victory over the Italians now allows the defending champions to chase a third-place Six Nations finish, with Scotland heading to Dublin next weekend.
Joe Schmidt's men headed into the tournament boasting consecutive Six Nations title, only to slip to defeats in France and England and grind to a draw with Wales in Dublin.
Head coach Schmidt had always targeted a mid-table finish as a reasonable return given Ireland's lengthy injury catalogue, and now the former Leinster boss can point his men towards that aim.
Ireland's strongest available line-up showed the slipshod Azzurri no mercy, Schmidt's men desperate for a first win in five matches.
Devin Toner's lineout steal set Ireland away for an opening score that owed much to Italy's defensive disarray.
Wing Leonardo Sarto tapped back Johnny Sexton's cute chip, expecting full-back David Odiete to be sitting in the pocket in his own 22.
Odiete had instead raced up, leaving the unwitting Sarto handing Ireland the ideal attacking platform.
From the next ruck Ireland broke blind and Trimble powered into the left corner for the game's first try.
The hosts quickly doubled their try tally when McGrath powered home after a series of tight drives off the back of a penalty lineout.
Astute rucking from young flanker Josh van der Flier opened the door and McGrath burrowed home. Sexton's conversion let Ireland end the first quarter 12-0 to the good.
Fly-half Edoardo Padovani cut Ireland's lead with a penalty, but any respite was short-lived.
Sergio Parisse's late tackle on Sexton allowed Ireland's playmaker a shot at goal and he duly converted to push the home men 15-3 ahead.
Ireland suddenly realised Italy were already floundering, almost unforgiveable less than half an hour into a Test match.
Simon Zebo stepped and pirouetted through defensive caverns and only an unfortunate bounce into touch from Sexton's disguised reverse chip let Italy off the hook.
Ireland claimed their third score when Keith Earls bisected Italy's bamboozled line thanks to Payne's neat inside ball. Munster flanker Stander powered home from a tight drive for his first Test try to ease Ireland into a 20-3 lead.
Ireland fended off a lineout maul just metres from their own line before finishing the half in style.
Heaslip produced a lung-busting support run to cap a fluent move involving Zebo, Payne, Sexton and Trimble, before temporary replacement McFadden provided the scoring pass for the number eight.
Padovani's dreadful wide pass gifted Ireland their fifth try and handed Italy the nightmare second-half opening as Payne zipped past the stranded Michele Campagnaro to intercept and canter under the posts.
Vice-captain Heaslip capped a fluent lineout move for his second and Ireland's sixth score, with Sexton's conversion pushing the hosts' lead to 39-3.
That conversion proved Sexton's final act, head coach Schmidt fully confident of victory with more than half an hour to play.
Madigan slotted in at fly-half, with Cronin replacing captain Rory Best at hooker for his 50th Ireland cap.
Leinster front-rower Cronin had been on the field less than five minutes when he raced home for the seventh score of the day.
More Ireland replacements cut the momentum, allowing Odiete to cross for a score in the right corner.
Cronin's blistering acceleration set Ireland on the romp again, replacement lock Ultan Dillane punching up through the middle too.
Payne battled to burrow home but was held up, only for Ireland to claim try number eight through Madigan.
Sarto ghosted in for a highly debatable score for Italy next, the try awarded on review despite Odiete's distinctly forward-looking wide pass.
Unfazed, Ireland simply set themselves back on the attack and McFadden nipped in for the ninth score.