The 2014 Six Nations' champions Ireland crushed Italy in their round 1 match and got their Six Nations' defence off to a winning start.

Joe Schmidt's men took a long time to penetrate a solid Italian defence. The first-half was a lacklustre affair, with very few opportunities and with the Italians looking compact and strong at the back. The Shamrocks' fly - half Ian Keatley scored three penalties, opening up a 9 - 0 lead a few minutes before the break. All Italy offered in the first half was Kelly Haimona's first penalty attempt, which came with the final kick of the first-half.

Ireland stepped up a gear after half- time and moved the ball wider earlier on without dropping it as often as during the first half. This ultimately won them the match. Munster's Keatley, Jonathan Sexton's replacement, grew into the game with his 100% first-half penalty record and scored his fourth penalty in the 58th minute after an offence in the scrum. Keatley has already played three times for Ireland but has never featured in the Six Nations' Championship previously.

Ireland took the game by the scruff of the neck when Italy's hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, 30, had been sin-binned and Italy were reduced to 14 men. The Shamrocks' managed to make their breakthrough in the 65th minute when Connor Murray scored a try, followed by Keatley's conversion to make the score 19 -3.

Two minutes later they increased the margin when flanker Tommy O'Donnell ran through for his touchdown. The flanker was a last - minute substitute for Sean O'Brien who strained a hamstring in the last moments of the warm-up session. This was O'Donnell's first try in international Rugby. Ian Madigan added a conversion to make the score 26 - 3 and seal victory for the Shamrock nation.

It was Ireland's eighth win in a row, and they have made a bright start in their defence of their Six Nations' crown. They will play at home against France next Saturday at the Aviva Stadium. For Italy, the trip to Twickenham next Saturday, where they are to play England, looks a gloomy prospect after England's brilliant performance in Cardiff on Friday.