Keenan double sets Ireland up for Six Nations title showdown in Paris

Dublin (AFP) –


Two tries from debutant Hugo Keenan helped put Ireland a bonus point win away from the Six Nations title after beating Italy 50-17 at an empty Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

The 24-year-old wing scored his brace in the first-half to settle the hosts' nerves and they went on to achieve their aim of a bonus point win against a spirited Italy.

The Irish will need to repeat that against France next Saturday in Paris to assure themselves of the title.

Ireland top the table with a point advantage over England and France.

If the title comes down to points difference they may rue conceding a late try to the visitors.

"There was a lot of good play today," said captain Johnny Sexton. "However, France are an outstanding team and we have our work cut out.

"I don't know if we will rue that try at the end but we cannot go back and look at everything. We would have snapped your hand off for that result.

He added: "If anyone can do it (a bonus point win in Paris) we can."

The game was postponed from March due to the coronavirus pandemic and had to be played without spectators.

The Italians had caught the Irish on the hop early on.

Jake Polledri made a great break bursting past CJ Stander and Sexton which led to a penalty.

Ireland were doubly penalised with referee Matthew Carley sending Conor Murray to the sin bin in the third minute. Paolo Garbisi converted the penalty for 3-0.

It was, though, a false dawn for the visitors.

Stander made up for his momentary lack of concentration as he went over for a try in the eighth minute -- Sexton converted for 7-3.

Just as Murray returned Sexton added a penalty to make it 10-3.

Frequent indiscipline by the Italians prevented them making inroads into the Irish 22.

Keenan had been quiet up to the point he was offered his first scoring opportunity but he took it with aplomb.

He beat three Italian defenders to touch down in the corner after taking a lovely floated long pass from Robbie Henshaw, who had replaced Garry Ringrose who had taken a knock to the jaw.

As Keenan trotted back to the halfway line, Sexton converted brilliantly from the touchline for 17-3.

Keenan went back over a few minutes later after superb play by Jacob Stockdale but it was ruled out for an infringement by James Ryan.

However, Keenan's disappointment evaporated quickly as he touched down Murray's well judged kick after Ireland had broken up Italy's best period of possession.

Sexton converted for a 24-3 half-time lead and leaving them one try shy of the bonus point win.

The visitors deservedly got a try when Edoardo Padovani intercepted Sexton's pass to Henshaw and ran it back to touch down under the posts -- it was converted for 24-10.

It took another of Ireland's debutants, man of the match Will Connors to secure the bonus point going over on the hour mark. Sexton converted for 31-10.

The assurance of the bonus point appeared to be the release valve the Irish required for a sublime move which ended with Sexton crashing over for a try of his own.

Bundee Aki added a try after a brilliant offload by Peter O'Mahony -- Sexton converted punching the air in delight having missed the one for his own try.

Right on the buzzer, replacement hooker Dave Heffernan added another try, three years after he made his previous Test appearance.

The Irish, though, let their concentration slip at the death as Garbisi scored a brilliant solo try -- converting it too for 50-17.