The Grand Slam dream rolls on.
Not exactly the overpowering performance you’d expect from a team ranked number one in the world, but the learnings acquired were simply invaluable. This result is far more beneficial than the previous two because we now know we are far from the finished article.
Going into this game I don’t think Andy Farrell or any of his players thought the Italians were going to lie down but they had no idea that they were going to be tested in every facet of the game has to offer. It looks like Farrell's squad is not as bulletproof as everyone thought it was.
Ireland were not their usual clinical selves and were missing some key players but massive credit must go to the Italians for playing a brand of rugby that was not only exciting to watch but accurate in terms of what the modern game is demanding. Bigger, stronger, faster, fitter and most importantly controlled, Italy took to the field with nothing but winning on their minds. With 10 minutes to go, Italy were on top and chasing a seven-point margin.
When you consider that Ireland had their four-try bonus point in the bag before the half-time whistle after tries from James Ryan, Hugo Keenan, Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the second half was going to furnish us with a similar tally. That’s not how it panned out.
In the end, Ireland took the spoils by a margin of 14 points after a second try from Hansen but for long periods they were struggling and looked worried.
For players like Aki, Ross Byrne, Craig Casey, Iain Henderson and Jack Cronin this game represented their opportunity to push for a starting jersey in two weeks against Scotland. Truthfully, none of them really grasped their opportunity and I doubt if Farrell and his coaching ticket will spend too much time in debating which team will start in Murrayfield.
They had their moments, but to suggest that they were better than the players they replaced from the French game is pushing it. Perhaps Ulster’s Iain Henderson might have done enough to regain his jersey.
Much of the headlines in the build-up were afforded to Johnny Sexton's replacement Ross Byrne.
Byrne who has had to warm many a bench whilst awaiting his opportunity didn’t do a whole pile wrong, but he also didn’t exactly produce any moments of brilliance either. Perhaps the spotlight was focused too much on him and the occasion got to him, but international rugby is a beast that doesn’t really show to much sentiment and when your opportunity arrives, you either front up or you move aside. It’s as simple and brutal as that!
Jack Crowley did get three minutes in the end, but for me, that is a bit of an insult. Expecting someone to show what they can do in three minutes is like asking someone to find a needle in a haystack and it cheapens the meaning of earning an international cap.
With World Cup places up for grabs, I’d be very peed off if I was Crowley and I’d be asking Farrell for a few minutes of his time. Fortune favours the bold and brave.
It seems strange to be asking questions of a side that has won their first three Six Nations games with maximum points, but the need to show constant improvement game after game is one of the prerequisites for those who want to sit at the summit in their chosen sport.
One player who Ireland cannot do without against Scotland is Garry Ringrose and I think that was very evident by the lack of line-breaks in Saturday's game and goes to show that deploying two wrecking balls isn’t the answer to breaking down defences.
Without Ringrose, Ireland's midfield is just far too predictable and all it takes to stop it from gaining territory is a couple of opposing centres who have no respect for their bodies.
On a weekend that was tinged with much sadness because of the passing of Tom Tierney but I thought it was a magnificent gesture from captain James Ryan to begin his post-match interview by paying his respect to Tom and his family.