Andy Farrell’s charges racked up a nine-try 57-6 win over Kieran Crowley’s Italy to stay within striking distance of table-topping France, which shows no sign of slipping up as it drives forward on its quest for a first Grand Slam in 12 years.
But the central talking point of the Dublin victory was the fact that the Azzurri were forced to play for threequarters of the match with just 13 men. Replacement hooker Hame Faiva, formerly of Waikato and NZ Universities fame, was red carded for a high tackle in a borderline decision by Six Nations debutant referee Nika Amashukeli at the 19-minute mark.
Amashukeli then enforced the letter of the law, which called for, absurdly, the Azzurri to lose another player as they had forced the imposition of Golden Oldies scrums, there being no one else to play hooker. Even Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony could not understand the ruling and tried to intercede on the Italians’ behalf.
Funnily enough, the decision did not help Ireland, which had hitherto been direct and cohesive. Instead, the home team started pushing passes and trying to force space, even with the two-man advantage. Italy, conversely, tackled gamely and did well to restrict the final margin to 51.
Ireland’s best were tigerish opensider Josh van der Flier, No 8 Caelan Doris, and the Kiwi duo of halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and wing James Lowe, returning from injury.
Gibson-Park scored a try on the blindside from an inside ball by Lowe and then returned the favour for the first of Lowe’s double. Barring injury, both men should be on the plane to New Zealand in July for the three-Test series.
New lock Ryan Baird showed all his athleticism with a chargedown and skilful pick-up to score, while rookie fullback Michael Lowry ran in a double and looked more than comfortable at this level.
The best display of the round was clearly France’s six-try 36-17 demolition of Scotland at Murrayfield to reclaim the Auld Alliance Trophy and record its first win in Edinburgh since 2014. The scoreline may not have looked that imperious, but that was due to Melvyn Jaminet having an off day off the tee.
Led by man of the moment and man of the match Antoine Dupont, France, though not always accurate, pounded the Scottish pack into submission and then cut some merry capers out wide and in the midfield.
England leant on six penalty goals by No 10 Marcus Smith to ensure a 23-19 victory over Wales at Twickenham.
The visitors were down 17-0 before rallying with three tries, but will rue its ill-discipline, which was costly. Wing Alex Cuthbert ran on for his 50th cap for Wales, as did prop Kyle Sinckler for England. Halfback Ben Youngs came off the bench for his record-breaking 115th cap for his country, surpassing Jason Leonard.
England will have to up the ante in a fortnight in round four against Ireland, while France must win in Cardiff to virtually wrap up the championship.
Edinburgh: France 36 (Damian Penaud 2, Paul Willemse, Yoham Moefana, Jonathan Danty, Gael Fickou tries; Melvyn Jaminet 3 con) Scotland 17 (Rory Darge, Duhan van der Merwe tries; Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg cons; Russell pen) HT: 19-10 France
London: England 23 (Alex Dombrandt try; Marcus Smith 6 pen) Wales 19 (Josh Adams, Nick Tompkins, Kieran Hardy tries; Dan Biggar 2 con) HT: 12-0 England
Dublin: Ireland 57 (Michael Lowry 2, James Lowe 2, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park, Peter O’Mahony, Ryan Baird, Kieran Treadwell tries; Johnny Sexton 4 con, Carbery 2 con) Italy 6 (Edoardo Padovani, Paulo Garbisi pens) HT: 24-6 Ireland
Points: France 14, Ireland 11, England 10, Scotland 5, Wales 5, Italy 0
15 Michael Lowry (Ireland)
14 Damian Penaud (France)
13 Gael Fickou (France)
12 Jonathan Danty (France)
11 James Lowe (Ireland)
10 Marcus Smith (England)
9 Antoine Dupont (France)
8 Toby Faletau (Wales)
7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
5 Cameron Woki (France)
4 Paul Willemse (France)
3 Uini Atonio (France)
2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
1 Ellis Genge (England)
Round four (NZT):
Wales v France, Cardiff, March 12, 9am
Italy v Scotland, Rome, March 13, 3.15am
England v Ireland, London, March 13, 5.45am