Monday 19 March 2018

Conor O'Shea: Flurry of tries can't disguise how far we are from the required level

Ireland's Jared Payne (right) celebrates scoring his side's fifth try with Andrew Trimble. Photo: PA
Ireland's Jared Payne (right) celebrates scoring his side's fifth try with Andrew Trimble. Photo: PA

Conor O'Shea

I feel for Joe Schmidt. No matter what he says or does at the moment, he just can't win. His team played some really good rugby yesterday and put 58 points on Italy, and still we leave unsatisfied with the day's work. The Mexican wave from the crowd showed they lost interest because the contest had ended long before the final whistle.

If it had been a close game, we would have heard that Ireland weren't moving forward. Win like we did and we hear we have learned nothing. The truth is right in the middle, but the real test of our progress will come next week against Scotland.

What Schmidt needed in this game was a fast start, and he got it courtesy of Andrew Trimble's opening try. Leonardo Sarto gifted it to Ireland and only minutes later, once Jack McGrath had scored, you knew it was going to be a long, long day for Italy. For a team that arrived short on confidence and shorn of players, Italy needed to keep it tight on the scoreboard early, but they didn't and Ireland's confidence grew. The question then was only ever going to be, how many?

Try of the match belonged to Jamie Heaslip, with the magic coming from a Simon Zebo offload. With Italy having lost both second rows, they didn't even have the luxury of bringing on fresh legs in the second half, and it was even worse when Edoardo Padovani gifted them yet another try to start the second half, throwing an intercept to Jared Payne.

As a coach you take a risk when you empty your bench early because mentally you are telling your players the job is done. However you implore your team to keep playing, there can be a mental lull, but when you unleash the likes of Sean Cronin into a match like this you know there will be no lull. His sheer explosiveness is going to cause trouble for any opposition.

The problem for Schmidt will be actually keeping perspective on a game like this and deciphering where we are after yesterday. This Italian performance was nowhere near the levels of their opening three games, and credit has to go to Ireland for that. But the coach will dust down quickly and focus on the match that will determine how we perceive this championship to have gone, and that is Scotland.

The area that he will have to focus on most is our completion rate because I still think that when we are in the opposition 22 we are too direct. As you move up the levels, you have to do more to get reward. Italy afforded us space to allow us to play, but the closer we got to the line, the more one-dimensional we became. I always find it hard because as a coach you do what you need to and the whole call for trying new combinations is rich coming from people whose heads are not on the block.

Balance is a great word in life, and Schmidt will remain level. He kept perspective when we lost and will keep perspective in victory. Having watched the England-Wales game that followed, it is clear there is another level we are aiming for, and we are a long way off that at the moment. What this Championship has allowed us to do is to learn without a number of leading players. Once we get those players back, and with the experiences garnered, we will be in a better place.

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