IRELAND got the job of securing all five Six Nations points on offer against Italy done with ease, on Saturday afternoon at the Aviva Stadium, but they will hope that they do not end up regretting leaving the Italian’s in for a last minute consolation score next weekend when the final table gets collated.
There were echoes of Italy’s last second try in the final game of the 2007 Six Nations encounter between Ireland and Italy in Rome, in Paolo Garbisi’s last second try on Saturday.
Thirteen years ago Roland de Marigny’s try moved the points difference chase for France, in their subsequent game against Scotland, from 30 to a more manageable 23, and in the end the score ended up costing Ireland the championship, as France scored a last minute try of their own to move four points ahead of Eddie O’Sullivan’s side in terms of points difference.
Garbisi’s try moved England’s target next week from a sizeable +45 to a more manageable +38.
Of, course, the one advantage that Ireland will have is England will have completed their points chase by the time the France v Ireland game kicks off in Paris, so Ireland will know exactly what their target is on the night.
Given that Italy are in the midst of a rebuild stage and are introducing players with practically no senior experience you would imagine that England could put up a cricket score in Rome on Saturday afternoon though.
If that is the case Ireland should forget about points difference against a quality French side and instead take a leaf out of the book of European Cup winners Exeter Chiefs and literally turn down every chance of three points they get and instead go the corners and go try chasing, as a win of any score, with four tries scored would see Ireland crowned as champions.
It may be deemed as a risky strategy, but if England set too big a target then it would be the smart play.
The jury is very much out on the Jacob Stockdale at full back experiment.
The retirement of Rob Kearney, coupled with the injury to Jordan Larmour, had left a void at full back, and while there were viable options such as Shane Daly, Mike Haley and Hugo Keenan, Irish coach Andy Farrell opted to play Stockdale in the No. 15 shirt.
There are major question marks around Stockdale’s selection at full back. While his attacking ability is undoubted, his form for the past 18 months, in his preferred left wing position, has been patchy at best, so to expect him to regain his form of a few years ago in the more exposed position of full back is a big ask.
Of course, there is method to Farrell’s madness. In the next few weeks Leinster’s left wing James Lowe will become Irish qualified, and you would imagine that Farrell is already preparing the way to get the considerable attacking threat of Lowe and Stockdale on the pitch at the same time.
And while that is an understandable intention, the likelihood is that Stockdale’s defensive, aerial and positional deficiencies will be found out at one stage or another.
Hugo Keenan’s impressive debut may well prove the elephant in the room when it comes to these future plans, however, as it will be extremely difficult to ignore the young Leinster man’s claims should he continue to perform at this level.
Keenan might not be the box office name that the others are, but what he does bring is dependability in terms of the basics, such as fielding etc that Stockdale does not bring, and all in all he is probably a better long-term bet at fifteen than the Ulster man.
All in all four Leinster players made their debuts against Italy with Keenan obviously stealing the headlines, but openside Will Connors certainly caught the eye with his all action display.
The back row of CJ Stander, Connors and Caelan Doris would appear to have the perfect balance, with Connors bringing his destructive tackling game to the power games of the other two.
Given the impressive nature of France’s 38-21 win over Wales, in their warm-up on Saturday in Paris, to be speaking of point chases and potential bonus points seems presumptuous in the extreme.
France could well win next Saturday and make a legitimate claim to be the best side in the championship, but unfortunately for them their surprise loss to Scotland last March has meant that Saturday is realistically a shoot out between England and Ireland.