Five talking points from Ireland's annihilation of Italy
Ireland steamrolled Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Here's what we gleaned from the 58-15 triumph.
1 – Very little
Ireland are a good team, Italy are not. Joe Schmidt’s team may have been struggling to score tries before this game, but they found an obliging opponent in the Azzurri and took full advantage.
Their confidence will be boosted by the win, the flowing tries will help lift the pressure of an attack that had struggled to finish moves to date and a minimal injury list allows the coach to plan ahead for Scotland which represents a sizeable step up.
Italy were so poor in every element of the game that it is hard to read anything into the performances however and the Scots will represent a significant improvement in opposition.
If Ireland can repeat their attacking intent with the same level of precision against Vern Cotter’s team, then we’ll know that they have turned a corner.
2 – Zebo adds to Ireland’s attack
We’ll never know how Rob Kearney might have gotten on against the Italians, but Simon Zebo showed enough in attack to hold on to the No 15 jersey next week.
The Louthman is an Ireland stalwart whose time in a green jersey is far from done, but whether it is the hamstring injury that has plagued his season or a tough run of form with Leinster, he hasn’t hit his normal heights this season.
Ireland’s attack looks more potent with Zebo in it and, while he plays the majority of his rugby on the wing with Munster, the freedom full-back offers appears to suit his free-running strengths and offloading ability.
Scotland would test his defence and fielding far more than Italy did, so he deserves another chance to prove himself ahead of the South Africa tour.
3 – The times they are a changing
A third of the fifteen players who finished today’s game for Ireland play their rugby for Guinness Pro12 league leaders Connacht, their biggest representation on the field to date.
Finlay Bealham was a surprise call-up for Cian Healy, but his endorsement from Joe Schmidt was a further feather in Pat Lam’s cap after a season of progress in Galway.
Robbie Henshaw was the province’s only starter, but Kieran Marmion made his long-awaited Six Nations debut off the bench, while Nathan White and Bealham finished as props with Ultan Dillane winning his second cap in the second-row.
4 – Schmidt moves in mysterious ways
The head coach explained his decision to pick Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden ahead of Paddy Jackson and Stuart McCloskey as being all about having as much cover as possible on the bench.
Yet, when Robbie Henshaw needed replacing due to a blood injury, Madigan – who nominally covers the No 12 shirt – kept his tracksuit on and instead McFadden came on for the centre and reverted to the left wing with Keith Earls joining Jared Payne in the centre.
It worked out well, with McFadden playing a pivotal role in Jamie Heaslip’s glorious length of the field try, but the logic put forward before the game went out the window.
But then, as if to prove a point, McFadden slotted into the centre when he replaced Jared Payne for the last eight minutes. Make of it all what you will.
5 – Italy are going nowhere
Before the game the cries of ‘Italia!, Italia!’ rang out around the Aviva Stadium, but they wouldn’t be heard again in what must have been a depressing 80 minutes for fans of the Azzurri.
They are destined for another hammering at the hands of Wales next week and, while they haven’t finished bottom of the table for a couple of years, are set to return there this time around.
It is time to ask whether Georgia should at least have a play-off against the bottom-placed team in the Championship because the Italians are being rewarded for mediocrity.