Analysis: Irish showed flashes of class in Rome but Italian project is finished

David Corkery looks at Ireland's display in Italy and their prospects of beating Scotland and England
Analysis: Irish showed flashes of class in Rome but Italian project is finished

Ireland's Keith Earls scores a try. Picture:  INPHO/Tommy Dickson

WHERE do you start?

First of all, thank God there were no supporters at this game because if there were, every one of them would be fully entitled to a refund. I’m even thinking of writing to the Italian federation myself to see if I can get compensation for having wasted 80 minutes of my life that I will never be able to recover.

This round-three game in this year’s Guinness Six Nations was by far one of the most uninteresting and monotonous games of rugby I’ve ever seen, and it really wasn’t Ireland’s fault.

Ireland can only play what confronts them on the field, but when your faced with a side that would struggle against any First Division All Ireland League club side, it is very hard to push yourself. I can fully understand the Irish players' lack of enthusiasm every time they scored or at the end of the game.

Italy have now lost their 30th consecutive game in the Six Nations and in the three games played in this year’s competition, they have conceded 139 points. You would like to think that Italian rugby can only go one way from this place of destitution. However, with no solid foundations or infrastructure of worth to build on, the light at the end of their tunnel is simply non-existent.

If the Six Nations organisers can’t see that the Italian dream is now fully dead in the water, then they need to be replaced with visionaries who want to see progress rather than landslide victories that are completely worthless to all involved.

Ireland's Ryan Baird enjoyed making an appearance in Rome. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Ireland's Ryan Baird enjoyed making an appearance in Rome. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

For Ireland, this game represented the perfect opportunity to get their challenge back on track and despite suffering from three disallowed tries, there isn’t a whole pile differently they could have done.

Perhaps when Italy were reduced to 13 players, Sexton and co could have run in a few more tries. However, when you play against a side that struggle to perform the simplest of skills, the game descends into a jerky, stop-start affair that curtails the overall flow.

The positives that Andy Farrell will take from this game are in how his players looked to keep the ball in hand instead of kicking it away and how they used the full extremities of the field to exploit the hapless Italians. There was also a heightened awareness from Ireland’s ball carriers to keep the ball alive during and after the tackle which is a big move away from how Ireland played in their two opening ties.

The modern game is designed to favour sides who try to play positive and precarious rugby and if you manage to break most teams' first line of defenders, your chances of scoring tries are dramatically increased.

The participation of Johnny Sexton for the entirety of the game was probably more of a statement of intent than it was a necessity and I would think it was Sexton himself who requested to play the full eighty.

In terms of his overall contribution, Sexton didn’t do anything that you could say was match altering but having played and lasted the full game it will do his confidence the world of good and his pass for Keith Earl’s try with the last play of the game was top notch.

Sexton's Leinster teammate, Jamison Gibson-Park did all that was asked of him in the number nine jersey and he wasn’t afraid to take the odd quick penalty in order to speed up the direction of the game. 

The only issue with taking quick free kicks and penalties is that if the rest of your players are not on the same wavelength, you can very quickly become isolated and run the risk of getting turned over. Perhaps if Gibson-Park is playing again the rest of his fellow players will be more cognisant of his ways of thinking.

The powerhouse that is James Lowe is finding it hard to replicate his Leinster performances in the green jersey and I’m not so sure if he’ll be picked for the much-anticipated tie away to Scotland.

Hugo Keenan and Garry Ringrose looked sharp and both managed to cross the whitewash and it was great to see Munster’s Craig Casey get his first cap from the bench.

Ireland's Craig Casey in action in his senior debut. Picture: INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli
Ireland's Craig Casey in action in his senior debut. Picture: INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli

The Irish backrow of Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors and CJ Stander probably played better as individuals than they did as a unit and again this is completely understandable against a side like Italy who have no shape or structure to how they go about their business. 

It will be very interesting to see what the Irish coaching team does when Peter O’Mahony returns from his suspension because I can not over-emphasise the importance of having a cohesive backrow.

Andy Farrell, who was been under immense pressure in the build-up, will know only too well that the encounter against a resurgent Scotts will present him and his players with a completely different set of obstacles.

I can’t imagine that Ireland’s video sessions will focus too much on this week’s victory albeit, it will be important to highlight all the good aspects of what led to Ireland breaking the Italians first up tackles and for them to build on this style of play.

The Irish backs have now shown that they can play a more adventurous brand of rugby and it is imperative that they continue to hone and develop this approach.

The postponed fixture between France and Scotland has put a bit of a damper on the competition.

A win for Ireland against Scotland and England would probably see Ireland occupy third spot in this year’s league table and considering they lost their opening two games, that would not be a bad place to end up.

Interesting times ahead.

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