George Hook: Even a 50-point win over Italy won't paper over cracks
The result against Italy tomorrow is a foregone conclusion and Ireland will win by 20 points.
In another head-scratching decision by the Ireland coach, Simon Zebo has come back into the side at the expense of Stuart McCloskey.
So, one of the Pro12's leading line-breakers, after just his first cap, makes way for a guy who has never fully convinced the coach to pick him regularly And Jared Payne, a talented and proven strike runner at full-back, comes back into the centre.
McCloskey does not even make the match-day 23. Maybe Joe Schmidt missed the module on building player confidence during his coaching courses? Fergus McFadden, who would not make the Leinster starting team if everyone in the province was fit, is recalled to the bench.
And Ultan Dillane, after a monstrous performance off the bench at Twickenham, is once again consigned to a supporting role among the replacements.
This is Italy, at home. Spare me the nonsense about the importance of finishing mid-table and the monetary value of a win to the suits in the IRFU accounting office. Dillane deserves to start. So does McCloskey. Why not give Kieran Marmion a go? And with those three players in the starting XV, Ireland would still beat Italy comfortably.
Regardless, Ireland will still win and, who knows, they might even score a few tries. But the same stagnant style continues to dominate; nothing has really changed since the World Cup.
More worryingly, this tournament, just as it was up until the final round last year, when a freakish set of circumstances combined to save it from itself, remains dull. Not even a 50-point winning margin against the Italians will change that.
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