IRELAND face off against Georgia this weekend in their Autumn Nations Cup clash at the Aviva Stadium, as they look to bounce back from their fourth defeat in a row at the hands of England.
One always felt that the England game was one of those matches that Irish players were better off missing. England had pretty much their first 15 to call upon, while Ireland had a lot of relative newcomers to this level on show.
There was a genuine fear that some of these inexperienced Irish players would have their reputations damaged almost irreparably at Twickenham, and while this did not transpire, a few nascent careers certainly got a wake-up call.
Ronan Kelleher is only 22, so will not be chucked on the scrap heap just yet, but last weekend was certainly an eye opener for the young Leinster hooker. He made his name on the back of scoring loads of tries for a dominant Leinster side in last year’s Pro14 competition, but Saturday was most definitely up a few levels.
There are already reservations as to his throwing accuracy at lineout time, and unless he can dispel these doubts he might find himself struggling to nail down the Ireland No. 2 shirt in the long term.
In fairness to Kelleher, Ireland lost a number of attacking lineouts in Paris against France in the Six Nations decider last month too, and it was Rob Herring and Dave Heffernan on duty that night, so that would suggest that it may be a system’s issue rather than an individual one.
With captain Jonathan Sexton still missing it is an opportunity for both Ross Byrne and Billy Burns to stake a claim as back-up out-half for the Six Nations. Byrne did not set the world on fire last weekend, while Burns had a positive impact off of the bench, so the Ulster man is surely in pole position right now.
This game against Georgia presents a chance for the squad members who missed out against Wales and England to get game time. This should mean a first cap for Shane Daly at full back, which should mean an early 24th birthday present for the Cork Constitution man.
Given that, since the retirement of Rob Kearney, there is a clear vacuum to be filled in the Ireland team at full back, this game is a real opportunity for Daly to stake a claim for the number 15 shirt.
Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey is also likely to get his first cap in two years this weekend. Ulster rugby supporters have a chip on their shoulder on the back of the treatment of McCloskey and John Cooney by Ireland selectors, and given how their form stacks up against others who are capped on a regular basis they probably have a point.
Opponents Georgia have failed to score a single point in their two games in this competition to date, with them losing 40-0 to England and 18-0 against Wales last weekend.
No doubt the Rugby World Cup Pool D clash of 2007 will be mentioned in commentary on Sunday. That was a quality Georgian side, containing some genuine world class players like Mamuka Gorgodze and Goderzi Shvelidze, and Ireland were extremely lucky to emerge as 14-10 winners. Ultimately Ireland’s hopes in that World Cup in France were doomed, as they failed to emerge out of the Pool, but Georgia were extremely close to one of the great World Cup shocks in Bordeaux that night.
They seemed destined to step up to Six Nations level back then, but it just never happened, and it now looks like that ship has sailed. They will always have a big, rugged pack, but the big advantage that they used to enjoy at scrum time is long gone, in the age of specialist scrum coaching, which effectively eliminates their main attacking weapon.
Add to that the fact that the numbers of quality Georgian players in Europe’s top clubs has dropped off over the last decade and it is pretty clear that they simply won’t be threatening any surprise wins anytime soon.
Given that evidence you would expect a comprehensive victory for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.