WHERE do you start?
What a trio of matches to kick start this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
On Saturday when we were treated to the sight of the splendid French playing rugby as it was designed to be and destroying the hapless Italians. This was followed by the Scots giving the English a lesson in diplomacy and shoving Eddie Jones’ pre-game conceited comments somewhere the sun doesn’t shine.
Finally, we were treated to a cliffhanger. A very brave display by a 14-man Ireland ended up falling just short of the finishing line because of a desperate schoolboy error.
Some might argue that rugby as a sport is not as entertaining as it once was and others suggest it is a dying entity. For those who watched the Six Nations at the weekend, they would have observed three games of rugby where the full menu of skill, hunger, bravery, intelligence and mental resilience was on display.
Naturally, I’ll concentrate on the Irish loss.
Long before a ball was kicked in this game, most weren't giving Andy Farrell’s opponents a chance in hell of winning it. It was felt that because Wales had lost seven out of their last 10 games, and there was a new and unproven coaching set-up, that Alun Wyn Jones’s players would not deal with an Irish team heading in an upward trajectory.
Player confidence is always important during a Six Nations campaign and in the Guinness Pro 14 Leinster and Ulster are top of pool A and Munster and Connacht are leading the way in pool B. The Irish squad has no excuse in this department.
The sending off of Peter O’Mahony on the 13th minute was incredibly unfortunate.
It is most unlike the Munster captain and I would hope that his solid disciplinary record will come into consideration when he is further sanctioned later in the week.
Any sport where the opposition has a numerical advantage is tough but on this occasion, I really believe Ireland played better because of it.
Yes, Ireland might have gone on to win the game if the incident did not transpire, but the communal effort offered by O’Mahony’s teammates showed that this Irish squad are strong as a unit and able to think on their feet.
When one of your team is dismissed you have two choices. You either front up and lift your own personal performance to a level that compensates or you let the departure excuse your own failings.
I am happy to report that to a man the remaining Irish players all stood front and centre and were happy to take on board the extra workload.
The real reason Ireland lost lies firmly in the hands of the Irish coaching ticket.
Possession of the ball in modern-day rugby is the most important thing to have when you are looking to score points. When Ireland had opted to kick away the ball on five separate occasions during the first six minutes of this game, it had me shaking my head in disbelief.
As a tactic, it lacks any kind of thought process and originality.
This methodology of kick and hope may not be as bad as it was during the Joe Schmidt era, but it isn’t that far off.
When Ireland did keep the ball flowing through the hands they looked good. And while no one is expecting them to score after two or three phases of play, if you hold onto the ball long enough you will either win a penalty or create space to exploit.
Ireland’s midfield pairing of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw looked sharp and as a duo, they offer a nice blend of power and creativity.
Line breaks were few and far between from both sides, but when Ireland’s back three decided not to put boot to ball and look for opportunities to run, they looked the more dangerous unit.
Up front the early loss of O’Mahony and then James Ryan through injury was a massive blow to the Irish pack and whilst they adequately held their own, they never got on top as was expected.
The sight of Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong taking to the field after their long-term injuries was a lift and will act as some kind of comfort for Farrell.
However, the mistake made by another substitute Billy Burns was simply inexcusable.
Burns, on for Johnny Sexton who yet again had to leave the field for a head injury assessment, had an opportunity to give Ireland one last throw of the dice.
When he kicked the ball dead from a touch-finding attempt it ended the game and any hopes of Ireland winning a Grand Slam or Triple Crown. I find it completely unacceptable.
It will be interesting to see if Farrell holds the same viewpoint as me and keeps Burns in his squad.
Unquestionably, this is a game that Ireland should have won.
The loss has now heaped a whole pile of pressure on Farrell and his squad.
Next week they must somehow repel a French side that is looking mighty impressive.
To do that they will need everyone to reach their peak.