Leinster winger Luke Fitzgerald chose the perfect time and place for his first Ireland tries as his brace in Rome on Sunday sent Declan Kidney's side shooting to the top of the RBS Six Nations season. Fitzgerald's opening try late in the first half and a Rob Kearney conversion while Ronan O'Gara was in the sin bin turned a 9-7 deficit into a 14-9 lead after a difficult opening half for the visitors. Ireland never looked back after Fitzgerald added to a great breakaway try from Tommy Bowe against the run of play in the 19th minute. A stubborn Italian pack and a resolute home defense then crumbled after the break when Fitzgerald, David Wallace and a rejuvenated Brian O'Driscoll crossed the line. O'Gara, sin binned just before the break, kicked 11 points in all as Italy relied on three penalties from young out-half Luke McLean for their entire tally on another disappointing day for Nick Mallet's side. The Irish are now level on points with Wales at the top of the Six Nations table, but ahead of points scored after two wins from their opening two games against France and Italy. "It's always nice to get on the scoreline, but the bigger picture is the team and the way we performed," said two try hero Fitzgerald afterwards. "Overall it was a good trip to Rome. Italy are a very imposing team and a really tough unit to break down. They showed that last week against England, though they let themselves down by making too many errors. "We knew they were going to be physical, so we had to contest the breakdown. You have to work really hard to beat a team like that and that's how we played. "Thankfully, we came out the right side. The Italians were very committed but we took our chances very well and that was testimony to us." Patience was the order of the day for Ireland, particularly before the break when O'Gara was yellow carded and center Paddy Wallace was forced off with a nasty facial injury. That left no natural kicker on the pitch for 10 minutes as Kearney and captain Brian O'Driscoll shared the responsibilities, while Tomas O'Leary moved to an emergency number 10 role with Peter Stringer in at scrum-half. "We're happy to have won. The scoreline may flatter us but we'll take anything we can get," said O'Driscoll after a tie that was tougher than the scoreline might suggest. "It's pleasing that things didn't start well for us, but the longer the game went on the better we got. We were patient and knew we'd have to wait to break them down before taking our opportunities. "They didn't score a try and that's because of our defense, not because of their lack of ability. Things didn't click for them today." Bowe's intercept try, at a time when Italy were 6-0 up and growing in confidence, was seen as a turning point by many in the Irish camp. "I'm delighted with the win. It's very important to keep a balance when you look at the match. Sometimes you don't win, even though you don't play very well," said coach Kidney. "I thought we were very patient after 20 minutes. In the first 20 minutes we were pushing it a little bit and Italy had us under enormous pressure. "Because there was so much competition at the breakdown we were conceding penalties which put them in front. Our first try was well taken by Tommy but we were a bit fortunate to get it. "It was a big relief because had Italy moved to 9-0 it could have been quite different. That try was a huge lift for us." Italy: Masi, Robertson, Canale, M. Bergamasco, Pratichetti, McLean, Griffen, Perugini, Ongaro, Castrogiovanni, Dellape, Reato, Zanni, M. Bergamasco, Parisse. Replacements: Bacchetti for Robertson (20), Garcia for Canale (48), Toniolatti for McLean (72), Festuccia for Ongaro (41), Nieto for Castrogiovanni (33), Del Fava for Dellape (48), Sole for Reato (48). Ireland: Kearney, Bowe, B. O'Driscoll, P. Wallace, Fitzgerald, O'Gara, O'Leary, Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Ferris, D. Wallace, Heaslip. Replacements: D'Arcy for P. Wallace (41), Court for Horan (55), Best for Flannery (60), Leamy for Ferris (62), Stringer for O'Leary (72), O'Kelly for O'Connell (77), Murphy for Kearney (77).

Guinness-march2019