Emerging Ireland did most of their scoring in the first half as they carved out a 25-0 bonus point victory over Emerging Italy in the World Rugby Tbilisi Cup.
JJ Hanrahan pulled the strings for Allen Clarke's side in the Georgian capital, kicking an early penalty and setting up three tries for Eoin Griffin, Andrew Conway and Stuart McCloskey as they led 20-0 at the break.
The second period was a stop-start affair as the Emerging Italy pack pressed for an elusive try before the young Irish outfit had the final say, full-back Tiernan O'Halloran squeezing over in the right corner with just seconds left.
Although the players and coaches will be frustrated with a rather listless closing 40 minutes, it was workmanlike display from the Emerging Ireland squad who return to the Avchala Stadium pitch against Uruguay next Wednesday.
Speaking afterwards, coach Clarke said: “Scoring the fourth try at the end was important. I was impressed with the way we played in the first half. In the second half we were scrappy. Having said that, we got the crucial bonus point and we didn't concede so we are pretty satisfied with that aspect of our game.”
Both teams showed an eagerness to run the ball early on and after a strong carry from Emerging Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock, Hanrahan punished an Italian offside with the opening points from a fifth-minute penalty.
Jack Conan did well to gobble up a miscued first Irish lineout, five metres from his own line, while a solid shove on Italian scrum ball earned the white-shirted Irish a penalty on halfway and from there they built for the first try.
Big centre McCloskey bulldozed through into the Italian 22 and quick recycling, with prop Stephen Archer also getting over the gain-line, saw Hanrahan send London Irish clubman Griffin over to the right of the posts.
Emerging Ireland then advanced up the left touchline via a couple of penalties, and two successive maul infringements led to Italian prop Federico Zani being sin-binned. Emerging Italy held out until Hanrahan fired an inviting cross-field kick over to the right for Conway to finish off try number two.
Hanrahan turned provider again just two minutes later, turning a loose ball in midfield into a breakaway as he accelerated over halfway, drew in full-back Alberto Chiesa and passed to his right for McCloskey to finish over under the posts. The out-half added the conversion for 20-0.
A promising Italian maul was well defended, with Rob Herring and the lively Dan Leavy forcing a turnover, but good approach work from Luke McGrath was ruined when Conan lacked support and coughed up a penalty for holding on.
Connacht flyer Matt Healy almost rounded off the first half with a peach of a try. A late breakout following Italian pressure saw Healy evaded a couple of defenders near the left touchline. Unfortunately, after chipping ahead and then hacking on, the winger's second kick proved too strong and beat him over the end line.
Emerging Ireland's attempts to add to their lead were thwarted early on the resumption, as their maul was disrupted and the Italians proved stubborn in defence. The under-pressure Emerging Italy scrum also won them a relieving penalty, even after prop Pietro Ceccarelli was yellow carded for repeated infringements.
Notably, the Italians' share of territory was increasing, and it took some disciplined defending of mauls and short carries near their five-metre line for Emerging Ireland to keep them out.
Flanker Leavy was well positioned to a win a couple of ruck penalties, although his fumbled lineout catch in the Italian 22 dented Irish hopes of driving through for the bonus point score.
Emerging Italy advanced down-field on the back of successive scrum penalties, the latter one seeing Irish replacement Andrew Warwick binned in the 73rd minute. But an energetic finish – full of direct running – saw Emerging Ireland end their barren spell, Hanrahan being hauled down before John Cooney released his Connacht team-mate O'Halloran for a neat finish past Chiesa.
TIME LINE: 5 minutes – Emerging Ireland penalty: JJ Hanrahan – 3-0; 13 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Eoin Griffin – 8-0; conversion: missed by JJ Hanrahan – 8-0; 18 mins – Emerging Italy yellow card: Federico Zani; 25 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Andrew Conway – 13-0; conversion: missed by JJ Hanrahan – 13-0; 27 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Stuart McCloskey – 18-0; conversion: JJ Hanrahan – 20-0; Half-time – Emerging Ireland 20 Emerging Italy 0; 55 mins – Emerging Italy yellow card: Pietro Ceccarelli; 73 mins – Emerging Ireland yellow card: Andrew Warwick; 80 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Tiernan O'Halloran – 25-0; conversion: missed by JJ Hanrahan – 25-0; Full-time – Emerging Ireland 25 Emerging Italy 0
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)