Treble for unlikely talisman Stander as Ireland thrash Italy

CJ Stander became the first forward to score a hat-trick for Ireland in 18 years as Ireland cruised to an emphatic 63-10 Six Nations win over Italy on Saturday.

Ireland suffered a surprising 27-22 defeat in their tournament opener against Scotland, but a bigger shock was never on the cards at the Stadio Olimpico.

Joe Schmidt's men had been the first team to claim a losing Six Nations bonus point in the loss at Murrayfield, and six minutes before half-time in Rome they registered a maiden try-scoring bonus point thanks to doubles from Keith Earls and Stander.

The absence of captain Rory Best through illness had no impact on the visitors and Stander - who was presented with his first Bulls jersey by the late Joost van der Westhuizen - completed his hat-trick on a day that saw both teams pay a pre-match tribute to the former Springbok five days after his death.

Stander's treble was the first by an Ireland forward since Keith Wood's against the USA in 1999. Brian O'Driscoll had been the last Ireland player to score a hat-trick in the Six Nations back in 2002.

Four further second-half tries followed, three coming from substitute Craig Gilroy after he was brought on in the 48th minute, adding the gloss to a performance that should reinvigorate Ireland ahead of a home meeting with France in two weeks' time.

Ireland dominated from the off but Simon Zebo wasted a chance to capitalise on their sustained early pressure as he failed to ground the ball in the left-hand corner.

It was not long before fellow wing Earls did open the scoring, waltzing over on the opposite flank after play had been called back for a penalty.

Paddy Jackson added the first of his nine conversions before Carlo Canna trimmed the deficit with a penalty, but Ireland continued to dictate matters and widened their lead in the 17th minute as a neat offload from Jamie Heaslip saw Stander go over wide on the left.

Their advantage was 18 points shortly before the half-hour, Ireland putting the ball through hands quickly again to send Earls in for his second.

A perfectly executed line-out enabled Italy to reduce their arrears through a penalty try as Ireland were pinned for coming in from the side in the subsequent rolling maul.

But Ireland's response was swift and they wrapped up a bonus point well before half-time when Stander crashed over.

Stander rounded off his hat-trick with the pick of the bunch, cantering to the line from 30 yards out.

Ireland were not finished there, though, Gilroy's first two tries sandwiched a Garry Ringrose effort, and the final flourish came in stoppage time as the replacement wing breached a heavily fatigued Italy defence once more.

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