Ireland's record nine-try romp got them dancing in Dublin, but was it a missed opportunity against the Six Nations lightweights?
By Whiff of Cordite
The mood was downbeat for Ireland going into their fourth Six Nations game against Italy at the weekend, four games without a win having been compounded by a selection that was largely seen as unnecessarily conservative and a missed opportunity to see more of the likes of Stuart McCloskey and Ultain Dillane.
The result (58-15) was as predicted but the performance much better than expected, providing a useful fillip for a coach exasperated by having his judgement regularly questioned. It was one of those games designed for the term ‘bloodless coup’ and it’s pretty tough to know what one can learn from a virtual training session, but let’s give it a lash…
Ireland can score tries
After two tries in three games from a collective grand total of one metre out, Ireland ran in nine tries against the Azzurri, including one length-of-the-field contender for try of the championship from Jamie Heaslip that even featured an offload.
While the cynic would ask where Ireland’s attacking patterns and ambition were when the championship title was still up for grabs, it’s comforting to know our players know where the white line is. The players and coaching ticket were at pains to emphasise how close they were, and this was a satisfactory game for them – now let’s see the same approach this weekend against Scotland and prove that point.
Jack McGrath is one of Ireland’s key players
McGrath was probably our Man of the Match, and in the past 12 months has developed into one of the most influential players in the squad. In this championship he has been a beacon of strength and reliability in a difficult series.
Amazingly, he’s not yet on a central contract but with Cian Healy’s injury history and… um… Finlay Bealham, it would seem time to elevate him into that august company.
Ireland have competition at full-back
This was the perfect game for Simon Zebo to impress in a position where he has little experience and has often seemed ill-suited to the basic requirements of the position. With acres of space on offer he did not disappoint, with threatening and powerful running throughout, and a well-judged offload for Heaslip’s try.
His defence was ropey for David Odiete’s try, and we still want to see Jared Payne at 15, but Zebo showed enough to continue with the experiment – and we’ll definitely learn more if he stays there against Scotland.
Life in the old dog yet
Going into this championship, Ireland’s second-row stocks were decimated and Mike McCarthy had suddenly become a key man on the back of some solid form for Leinster. With McCarthy’s concussion against France, Donnacha Ryan found himself elevated to the XV on the back of years of injuries and some pretty average displays for Munster.
The suspicion was that Ryan, 32, had simply shipped too many injuries and his days as an international were coming to a close, but after two impressive days at the office he looks reborn.
Perhaps the emergence of Dillane has forced him to raise his game, but that would imply that competition for places is a good thing, and this is Ireland after all.
Schmidt’s selection not entirely vindicated
Yes, it was an impressive showing and we ran in nine tries, but the ease with which Ireland won didn’t bury the argument that we could have used this as an opportunity to further the development of Ulster’s barnstorming centre McCloskey.
This would have been an ideal opportunity to see him to experience Test rugby in a low-pressure environment, at least off the bench where the presence of Fergus McFadden is more an endorsement of his versatility rather than his talent.
In spite of the overall feel-good factor emanating from a handsome win, there was still the sense of an opportunity foregone.