FOR 49 MINUTES, this match felt like nothing more than a showcase for Joey Carbery’s tremendous talent.
Perhaps even the beginnings of a case for his promotion in Ireland’s out-half pecking order.
However, just over half an hour remaining, the excitement he brought to otherwise tame proceedings was replaced with concern and hope that the knee he twisted inches from his try-line was not as serious an issue as his departure on the stretcher made it appear.
Matches like this are so often just about blowing off the cobwebs, but Carbery arrived on Lansdowne Road like a breath of fresh air.
The Munster playmaker, starting for just a sixth time in the Ireland number 10 shirt, guided his side around potential pitfalls with minimum fuss thanks to an array of inventive kicks from hand and slick passing in the lead up to two first-half tries that followed a score of his own.
Indeed, after a slow start for an Ireland team working their way through a little rust, it was Carbery’s hack at a grounded pass that conjured the game’s first hint of a thrilling chase.
Dave Kearney was denied reward for his pursuit by pressure from Angelo Esposito, but he would cross the whitewash before the clock ticked over to 30.
With the Aviva somehow sneaking between the heavy forecast showers, there was a noticeable absence of intensity through the bright haze. Italy crossed the hosts’ line twice in the first half to hush the sparse crowd. First through Maxime Mbanda on the back of a 12th-minute maul.
Ireland hit back thanks to Carbery’s first international try on the back of a terrific reverse pass from Chris Farrell, but the lead was the Azzurri’s again after a period of fractured play ended with Edoardo Padovani’s grubber from the right wing.
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Carlo Canna appeared fortunate not to be ruled offside from the kick, but the score stood and Schmidt will wonder why there was no back-field cover behind the try-line.
Jordan Larmour was up in the line when the second try was conceded, but the 22-year-old thrived in attack alongside Carbery and supplied the final pass for both Kearney and Andrew Conway tries as Ireland took a 19-10 lead into half-time.
Italy’s early gusto faded after the break. Conor O’Shea had already made wholesale changes to the team who ran France close in the Six Nations before they were further disrupted by a warm-up knock for centre Marco Zanon. He was replaced by Matteo Minozzi, who played his first Test 40 after 18 months out with a knee injury. Dubliner Ian McKinley took up his place in the back-line for the second half.