AT this point in the ever-changing fortunes of Irish rugby, I think it is important to start by highlighting some of the advantages Andy Farrell and his players have going for them.
First of all, both of Ireland’s set-piece platforms are working.
Without a solid and clean supply of ball from line-out and scrum, Ireland might as well be picking tulips in the Wicklow mountains. If they were issues, losing the first two ties in this year’s Six Nations campaign would only be the tip of Farrell’s worries.
Just imagine trying to fix Ireland’s attacking strategies with a less than favourable return from these two essential launching points. The introduction of Paul O’Connell to help refine the Irish line-out seems to be working a treat and the scrum under the guidance of John Fogarty is rock solid.
The next step for the scrum now is to become a weapon of mass destruction. Not only does the Irish scrum need to win its own ball with ease, they need to make sure their opponents are left reeling every time a scrum breaks up.
There is nothing more demoralising for any set of forwards than to face into scrum after scrum, having your arse handed to you, while on the other side there is nothing more satisfying than inflicting such torture.
The other really positive aspect for this group is they are all coming from a strong and healthy club environment. Player confidence is key in creating a workable international squad, with all four provinces producing league-topping performances.
The big question now, does Farrell know what tweaks are needed and is he open to having his overall blueprint altered?'
"When you start thinking of pressure, it's because you've started to think of failure.” These are the very learned words of Thomas Charles Lasorda a legendary baseball player and manager.
I just wonder if Andy Farrell’s train of thought has shifted from one of positivity to one of hope?
When you lose your first two games in any kind of sporting competition and do so by a single score in each of those games, your immediate defence is a lack of luck. That is really not good enough, especially in a professional environment.
Luck really has nothing to do with missing a tackle, failing to kick a ball over the touchline or making an ill-judged decision in a defensive situation.
Tackling is about technique and bravery. If you miss one, it was either because your technique was off or you didn’t like the size of the chap running towards you.
Failing to kick a ball over a line is nothing more than a lack of concentration while making a mistake in who you should be marking in a defensive line is a fundamental flaw.
Bad luck is having the referee run into you just as you are about to cross the whitewash or having a seagull fly by and it ends up stopping the ball from dissecting the uprights!
As we all know the fine margins between winning and losing are tiny and the higher you ply your trade in the professional game, the smaller the limitations become.
Farrell must take ownership for is the tactics his players deploy when they have ownership of the ball.
At this level, you either do what the coach tells you or you won’t be playing the following week. So if you see Conor Murray, Jamison Gibson-Park, Billy Burns, Johnny Sexton or Hugo Keenan kicking the ball with a view to their wingers chasing it and hoping they might win it back, they are doing so under strict instructions.
It just pains me to see forwards working so hard to win the ball in the first place only for the backs to boot it away. The only logical reason as to why you might instruct your players to do this is that you are not confident in their ability to outrun, outpace or outsmart the opposition.
The modern pre-planned game has completely destroyed the instinctive traits that define great players and the win-at-all-costs pressure forces weak coaches to adopt this philosophy.
The French are currently the only side in the northern hemisphere that are bucking this trend and that is not surprising when you look at who is pulling their strings. As a player, Fabien Galthié approached the game with little or no fear.
If they saw a gap, they went for it and Galthié is moulding this current French squad in the laissez-faire guise as he played himself.
Italy are next up and if we can’t put at least 40 points on them I would be seriously asking questions of Farrell’s long-term prospects.
Put Sexton and Murray on the bench, start Casey and Ross Byrne. Re-instate Andrew Conway on the wing and pair Ringrose with a more creative player than Henshaw.
Up front swap Stander for Connors and change the entire front row for the one that benched on Sunday.
The championship is gone now so we need to look beyond this campaign.