As a measure of where these games come in the hierarchy of needs, consider the reaction of the Ireland bench to Jordi Murphy's try, five minutes into the second half at a half-full Aviva Stadium yesterday.
The replacements were warming up in the in-goal area at the time - the same end, as per protocol, where the try was scored. They never looked up from what they were doing - it's not a very stimulating process - never mind run to the scene of the score to shower congratulations on the number eight.
That try put Ireland 24-10 clear, and beyond danger, if indeed you could say there was any of that about. Rather the only amber area was over the injury count and the dreaded prospect of some fella having his autumn altered before summer was out.
Joey Carbery topped that list. Hard on the heels of a season ruptured by injury the outhalf departed on a stretcher, with half an hour left, having been pinned awkwardly in a pile-up close to the Italy line. Things had been going pretty well for him up to that point.
"He has a bit of swelling - it was a little bit puffy on the inside - so we will let that go down and get it scanned," Joe Schmidt said afterwards. "If we don't think it's too bad he'll rehab in Portugal (where Ireland have a training camp) ahead of the England game. If not England, hopefully Wales. It's too soon to say, but I don't think it'll keep him out of the World Cup."
Carbery had been preceded by Rob Herring, who left at the end of the first quarter with a back spasm. The hat trick of injuries was completed by Devin Toner, who hobbled off with damage to the same ankle that took a chunk out of his season earlier this year, just as debutant Jean Kleyn's blood bin was up. Toner had come back onto the field to fill in while the South African was being patched up.
Joey Carbery of Ireland is tackled by Dean Budd, left, and Marco Riccioni of Italy. Photo: Sportsfile
As a contest this had the sort of value you would have expected: limited. Italy lost Marco Zanon in the warm-up but still managed a decent start despite the reshuffle. It included a try on 13 minutes for Maxime Mbanda after Jimmy Tuivaiti had broken off the back of a maul close-in.
The reaction to the flanker's touchdown could have been lifted from the Six Nations, so glad were the Italians that they had laid down a marker. These games are part phoney but when you had won just once in the fixture since 1997 every crumb is a meal. As usual, there was plenty to admire about the Italian game, and as ever they were short of enough quality players to sustain the effort.
Ireland's material response to that score arrived five minutes later, in the shape of a try and conversion from Carbery after a lovely pull-back by Chris Farrell in the teeth of the Italy defence.
By half-time the home side were 19-10 in front after Carlo Canna had regained the lead for Italy with a try referred upstairs for possible offside - it was a very tight call - before Ireland got over for two more, through wingers Dave Kearney and Andrew Conway. Both will have enjoyed their days out, with Conway picking up the man-of-the-match award. As Schmidt sharpens his knife to cull another few from the squad, every positive action by players under pressure makes it all the more interesting.
Luke McGrath of Ireland scores his side's fourth try. Photo: Sportsfile
Up front Ireland had their hands full with an abrasive Italy eight who looked especially comfortable at the scrum as the game wore on. And unusually for an Ireland-versus-Italy Test match, the penalty counts were level on nine.
Herring's loss was a pity, not in the context of the game but the time it robbed him to make an impression. Niall Scannell made the most of his time off the bench, and behind him Kleyn did well. He was asked to stay on for the 80, and the second 40 minutes didn't have much to do with winning and losing. So Jordi Murphy was happy that he got over for his try, as was Kieran Marmion who replaced Luke McGrath for the final quarter.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon was for Ian McKinley coming off the bench for Italy. Unfortunately it was the same man who took a bit long in clearing his lines that allowed Marmion block down and score. It altered the contrast rather than the picture.
Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway (M Haley 60), G Ringrose, C Farrell, D Kearney; J Carbery (J Carty 50), L McGrath (K Marmion 57); J McGrath (J Ryan 40), R Herring (N Scannell 20), A Porter (C Healy 71), D Toner (I Henderson 54), J Kleyn (D Toner 63-71). Blood), R Ruddock (capt)(T Beirne 61), J Murphy, T O'Donnell.
Italy: M Minozzi (I McKinley ht); A Esposito, T Benvenuti (I McKinley 25-35 HIA), G Bisegni, E Padovani; C Canna, G Palazzani (C Braley 53); N Quaglio (A Lovotti ht), O Fabiani (F Zani ht), M Riccioni (S Ferrari 52), A Zanni (S Negri 53), D Budd, G Licata, J Tuivati (R Giammarioli 50), M Mbanda (M Lazarroni HIA).
Referee: L Pearce (England).
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