Wednesday 18 July 2018

Final quarter malaise will give Farrell plenty of food for thought

Ireland 56 Italy 19

Ireland's defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland have developed a template for these Italian jobs and while they were a badly placed referee away from matching the nine-try haul they achieved in 2016 and 2017, there were frustrations leaving Lansdowne Road.

It might be churlish to focus on the poorer elements of this win, but that is what the coaching staff will do as they turn their thoughts to Wales' visit. You know Ireland are enjoying themselves when the off-loads begin rolling.

Jacob Stockdale gets away from Marcello Violi. Photo: Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale gets away from Marcello Violi. Photo: Sportsfile

They didn't quite manage their Championship high tally of 16 in last year's encounter with the Azzurri, but 11 was a good indicator of the freedom with which they played.

By keeping the ball through long phases, the home side exploited the fatigue in Italian legs still recovering from their bruising defeat to England six days earlier.

Utilising their powerful maul, they made inroads in the tight and the sloppy Italian attacking play offered them opportunity on turnover ball.

Injuries to Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan will concern Joe Schmidt, but the three second-half tries conceded will vex defence coach Andy Farrell.

Robbie Henshaw takes pain relief as he his aided by a medic after damaging his shoulder in the process of scoring his try. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw takes pain relief as he his aided by a medic after damaging his shoulder in the process of scoring his try. Photo: Sportsfile

Farrell has been keeping a low profile since his success as Lions coach last summer, but he has drawn plenty of praise for his work with the green line.

However, the poor chasing line that allowed Teddy Thomas through in Paris last week was followed by a hat-trick of tries that will be pored over in the analysis room in the coming days.

Ireland are chasing glory by pursuing excellence and they know that similar lapses against Wales won't go unpunished.

In the positive column, they will be happy with the speed they recycled the ball, the growth of Dan Leavy and Andrew Porter, the increased comfort of Bundee Aki in midfield and the handling of Iain Henderson and Peter O'Mahony.

Tadhg Furlong is helped from the field by Ireland medics.Photo: Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong is helped from the field by Ireland medics.Photo: Sportsfile

Their attack looked good under limited pressure, their set-piece was strong despite the loss of Furlong after just three minutes and they got half an hour under Joey Carbery's belt at No 10 and handed Jordan Larmour a first cap.

Their scores came from a variety of sources and any confidence Jacob Stockdale lost in Paris was regained here as he ran in two tries and enjoyed his return home.

Punters got plenty of action, but it wasn't much of a contest as Ireland put the Italians to the sword early and kept on stabbing.

By 35 minutes, they'd secured the bonus point thanks to Keith Earls' try - created by a brilliant Leavy turnover and some excellent running from Aki - and the second-half was a slightly surreal succession of plays that bordered on the inconsequential.

Italy’s Tommaso Allan scores his side's first try. Photo: Reuters
Italy’s Tommaso Allan scores his side's first try. Photo: Reuters

Ireland must figure out what was behind their final quarter malaise.

The players could be forgiven for switching off when they saw Henshaw suffering a horrible shoulder injury. With five points already secured, the prospect of a season-ending injury can infect even the most focused of minds.

Certainly, the backline re-jig without the Athlone native forced some defensive challenges and with Earls redeployed in the centre and the inexperienced Larmour on the wing the cohesion dropped and the line-speed went with it.

A superbly exciting prospect, Larmour won't want to see replays of Edoardo Gori or Matteo Minozzi's tries but he could have done with more support from those inside him.

In stepping out of a phone-box in the last two minutes he reminded everyone of what he offers in attack but that move was followed by an Earls bailout for Carbery whose risky pass allowed Matteo Bellini the sniff of a bonus point try only for the Moyross man to corner-flag him brilliantly.

A four-try Italian bonus point would have been of little consequence to the Italians, but the thought would not have sat well with the Irish ahead of their steps up in class in the weeks to come.

They will take solace in their own attacking work and intensity from the opening half. Henshaw and Conor Murray got the ball rolling early on, before Aki scored his first international try with a hard-fought effort.

Earls added the fourth, before Henshaw damaged his shoulder while scoring a fifth. The Ulstermen took over the scoring thereafter, with captain Rory Best getting over for a rare score in between two Stockdale scores. Rob Kearney might have added another, but for referee Romain Poite getting in the way.

All eight conversions were good, with Carbery's three adding some comfort to Schmidt who needs his No 2 out-half to get some meaningful game-time for Leinster this weekend.

Although his wrist injury kept him out for most of December and January, it allowed the 22-year-old time to practice his kicking and it appears to have paid off.

With a mounting injury toll, Ireland will need their squad in the weeks to come. As they regroup in Athlone, tightening the defence will be high on their agenda.

Ireland - R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw (J Larmour 45), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 51), C Murray (K Marmion 51); J McGrath (C Healy 68), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 61), T Furlong (A Porter 5); I Henderson, D Toner; P O'Mahony, D Leavy, J Conan.

Italy - M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, T Boni (J Hayward 55), T Castello, M Bellini; T Allan, M Violi (E Gori 58); N Quaglio (A Lovotti 37), L Bigi (L Ghiraldini 55), SP Ferrari; A Zanni, D Budd; SL Negri (F Ruzza 58), B Steyn (M Mbanda 45), S Parisse (capt).

Ref - R Poite (France)

Irish Independent

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