Rome wasn’t built in a day, this statement is very apt given the performance in the Stadio Olympico where Ireland won 26-16 but it was the manner on the victory that has people asking legitimate questions in the aftermath of the game.
How has a team that conquered all before them in 2018, begun to falter and even though they were only beaten once in the last three games in this season’s Six Nations, the questions that one loss has stirred up is incredible. As late as last November this team was being hailed as a real contender to knock New Zealand of their perch next September at the World Cup in Japan.
Now all the work that has been done since the last World Cup in 2015 is being questioned, now we see people coming out to question the squad depth, the attacking game plan and so on. Sean Cronin started his 1st Six Nations game yesterday and his line out throwing was poor but he can’t just be hung out to dry, the lifters have to take some reasonability in that area also. This particular facet can be fixed in the next two weeks and even Sean Cronin’s replacement Niall Scannell missed his man with his second throw when he came on.
When you don’t have a solid set piece it makes life very tough and the Irish game plan has been based around this aspect being extremely solid since Schmidt came on board and will need to be solid gain so Ireland will again need to go back to basics before the French arrive here. Like the win over Scotland, it wasn’t pretty but they got the win and can try and move on now from here.
Both Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton should have been replaced earlier than they were purely to give Jack Carty and John Cooney the opportunity to see could the unlock the Italian defence in that final 20 minutes. We constantly hear the game in now a 23 man or 30 man game and the guys in the squad need the chance to see can they effect the result.
The fact that Joey Carbery was injured last week in the build up didn’t help matters and probably put Schmidt’s team selection on ice for another time because Sexton and Murray will start against France in Dublin looking to find form ahead of Cooney and Carty. Carty will keep his spot on the bench as Carbery could be ruled out of contention for the French game at least with a hamstring injury. This will open the door for Carty or even Ross Byrne if he performs well with Leinster next weekend.
The attack will have questions to answer in the final two weeks of the Championship against France and Wales in Cardiff. The attack faltered because of lapses in concentration and poor passing nothing more or less again it can be solved and for all the soul searching that has be called for, Ireland still created a few good chances that but for poor passing would have been finished off and would all the questioned be asked have been asked ??
Time now for this Irish set up to reset the clock heading into the final two games of this Championship and let’s see what happens, they still have an outside shot at the Championship, it’s a long shot given the opposition that Ireland will face and that the Irish record in Cardiff under Schmidt has been patchy to say the least. France in Dublin will be tough given how well France did against Scotland.
This Championship has brought up many questions but let’s not forget this year is long and the old say of “form is temporary, Class is permanent” It is quite important to remember that the World Cup is a few months off yet and the squad has time and the players to fix the problems. Put it another way, win the next two games and who will remember the last few weeks. That particular job may be tricky at the moment but it would just be the tonic to atone for the supposed fall off in form.
Murray and Sexton will come good again, they have too much quality not to and need to be allowed to and in the mean time, others need to be trusted to do the job if required in the next few weeks…..
The Irish women will be bitterly disappointed to have been defeated but they could not live with the power and pace of the Italian attack whose two centres where terrific and although it was a first loss to Italy at this level, the loss could have happened 12 months ago also but this squad like the men will have two weeks to find the solutions to the problems created.
The ladies will need to put this defeat to one side and move on. 3rd place is still up for grabs….
The 20s did well winning 34-14 and will be confident going back to Irish Independent Park to take on France. This side is on course for a Grand Slam and will look to continue the good run with a win over France on home soil. Keep an eye on this side coached by Noel Mc Namara. They play an open brand of rugby….