Wins all round but bigger tests to come
Improvements are vital if provincial and international teams want glory
Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30
Three from three for Ireland, three from three for Munster - two unconvincing displays last weekend, but two happy camps.
Internationally, things would have kicked up a gear and it's all systems go for the big one.
France, in the Millennium Stadium has always been the key game in Pool D, and despite all of the talk in the media, Ireland would have had the French in the back of their minds.
This is the game that everyone wants to play in, this is the one that decides whether you play the best team in the world, New Zealand, or the team ranked seventh, Argentina.
For Ireland, the two previous games were run-outs - neither Canada nor Romania put up a fight. You always felt if Ireland got into an arm-wrestle with Italy it was going to be difficult, and that's how it transpired. Sergio Parisse and Simone Favaro were inspirational but Ireland didn't make it easy on themselves either.
Ireland gave away a lot of penalties in the breakdown, and going into the French game they will know they can't gift them opportunities like that. All of the back-row were guilty on separate occasions, and it was a bit of a wake-up call in that regard.
The referees have been really hot on not supporting your own body weight in the breakdown, and not rolling away post-tackle - so that area needs to be addressed.
Italy were exceptionally good at disrupting Ireland's ball at the breakdown, and that's somewhere France will probably look to target Ireland too. Over the last few years Joe Schmidt's team have been masters there, but in the warm-up games and last Sunday the standards slipped.
There will be increased urgency against France so Ireland can get the quick ball they live off. Other top teams use line-breaks, but recently Ireland haven't been a team that offloads in the tackle. So if they don't get clean ball it's difficult to gain momentum.
The centre partnership was untried and untested. It was Henshaw's first game back, and Earls's first time linking up with him. Henshaw was too lateral early on and he didn't attack the gainline. When he does that he is a serious weapon, and against France he will need to be more direct.
But Ireland took their try very well from a turnover at the lineout. An area that once again, was a real positive. The scrum was a disappointing factoring the domination they had shown prior to that.
Ireland need to be more efficient on Sunday. There won't be much of a change in the way the team plays. Ireland's style is a winning formula and if they can just be more clinical, it should be enough to win.
Elsewhere, I thought England were going to beat Australia considering their backs were to the wall, but I was really impressed with the Wallabies. The Hooper and Pocock combination is very hard to handle. And then when you add in the influence of Foley at out-half they have a serious team.
It will be a tall order for Wales against them tomorrow, but Wales have been thriving off adversity. If they play like they did in the last ten minutes against England, they could win, but Australia should have enough.
For Munster, they have those three wins on the board now, and two have come against big rivals, Ospreys and Glasgow. It was a little too close for comfort against Glasgow, but Munster came from behind to win at the death again.
However, they never adapted to the refereeing of Ben Whitehouse. He was very quick to blow his whistle when players were lying on the wrong side. Glasgow played him to a tee, and especially their scrum-half Grayson Hart who was very streetwise.
Although Glasgow were missing many of their frontline stars, they have a real culture about the way they play, and the 23 guys who wore the jersey on Friday really showed up. So you couldn't describe them as being a weak side; they were much better than people would have given them credit for.
Nevertheless, it was important Munster got the win - they did and now they can look forward the tough 16-game block with confidence.
Maul woes need to be sorted quickly
Ireland's maul hasn't functioned as seamlessly as they would have liked recently, and they need to have that right for France on Sunday.
It was such a strength for Joe Schmidt's side as they claimed back-to-back Six Nations successes, but there will have been a lot of work done there.
Against Canada and Romania they didn't fully dominate and then Italy exposed the weakness there, when they constantly disrupted the Irish rolling maul.
Whether legally or illegally, they shouldn't have been allowed to come around the side and latch onto the Irish ball-carrier.
The legal route is through the middle, but it's Ireland's job to protect their own ball and protect their ball-carrier.
Saying all that, referee Jerome Garces didn't cover himself in glory either - Italy lock Josh Furno was clearly offside prior to a knock-on from Conor Murray.
Instead of giving advantage Ireland's way, the referee told Furno more than once to move. And when he didn't, the maul collapsed as a result and the call went Italy's way.
It was a poor refereeing, but Ireland need to be more efficient and quicker to identify the threat.