Five things we learned from Ireland v Italy
After the defeat at Twickenham, the settled nature of the squad sparked much debate – particularly in parochial terms down south – about the quality and impact of the replacements bench.
BENCH WARMING TO TASK
As one wag noted, at one stage on Saturday, Racing Metro had as many representatives in the side as Munster!
However, question marks about the bench and its deployment were thoroughly refuted on Saturday as the reserves contributed handsomely to the success.
It began with Eoin Reddan's incisiveness following Conor Murray's early knock, before featuring a notable boost to Paddy Jackson's confidence, especially after he was ignored when Johnny Sexton played through injury against England.
We reserve the right to quibble at the true absence of seven or, indeed, lock cover but Peter O'Mahony's expected return next week – presuming the IRFU don't keep any more injury secrets – will over-ride these concerns.
CHANCE TO ERADICATE FRENCH FEAR FACTOR
Despite winning in Scotland, France remain in shocking form. They have a poorly selected squad operating beneath the guidance of a coach who appears to have abandoned any semblance of structure or cohesion.
Ireland's collective approach stands in stark contrast to the chaos that reigns in the French camp; while one can already predict every step in Ireland's build-up this week, one fears to think what eccentric ruse their opponents will next conjure up.
Ireland will need to summon this inward confidence. Their coach has demanded that they ignore their appalling record in Paris – "it is in the ether" – and instead focus on the precise and clinical detail of their own performance.
Calmness shines upon Ireland, while chaos rains upon France.
IRELAND ARE GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME
Whatever the ball game, an analysis of champions usually reveals that they are better at the end of the race than they are at the beginning. Schmidt's men continue to improve. Even though they veered away from their previous, fundamental template in that whirlwind first-half during which there were many faults to the performance, there was little evidence of panic.
Defeat in Twickenham has made the side stronger and the squad have also found it easier with every passing week to identify their own weaknesses and renew their focus.
SET-PIECE SUCCESS IS KEY TO WINNING IN PARIS
The foundations of victory next weekend will be predicated upon the set-piece; Ireland struggled to maximise their swingeing advantage here, both in the second-half at Twickenham and for long periods in Saturday's opening act.
Ireland turned over two line-outs and a scrum in the opening quarter; in fairness, they maximised the rewards later in the game but France are a different proposition. However, their set-piece is arguably even worse than the Italians.
They lost two scrums and – astonishingly – eight line-outs during the dire effort in Murrayfield. Ireland will surely prosper in this facet of play.
Their maul is also better than the French version, even if Italy, as is their wont, defended the close-in drives quite successfully after Ireland belatedly returned themselves to the gambit after a 40-minute hiatus.
BETTER OPPOSITION WILL PUNISH FRAILTIES
One can only confront one opponent at a time but we must be pedantic and point out some glaring inefficiencies in Ireland's display against rank outsiders Italy – Joe Schmidt will already have completed his survey of same before inviting the players to trawl through the evidence this morning.
Despite the inevitable late flourish against a side that contributed the most tackles in Test history, Schmidt will be investigating just why they did not convert their earlier pressure into points.
Also, the defensive lapses, particularly in the first-half, will have angered him.
Ireland were stripped of the ball too often and they were seriously vulnerable to turnover ball, from which the Italian's only score derived; there may have been more had they offered more composure.
Yoann Huget's searing breakaway hours later in Edinburgh re-confirmed that this unpredictability remains at the heart of France's make-up, a factor even more pronounced within their current, shapeless malaise.
Ireland will need to re-set much quicker in defence against the dangerous French runners; a historic submissive defensive approach could be fatal. They must not defend too narrowly.
The Weekend in Tweets
Sean O'Brien A lovely little result! Bench were outstanding when they came on! #IREvITA
Tommy Bowe What a performance by the boys today! Paris is gonna be buzzing next weekend. Hopefully send BOD off with the perfect end
Paul Wallace Nothing like a bit of BOD handling magic to unlock the Italian defence for 2 tries. IRL to kick on for a big score in 2nd half #rbs6nations
Brian Moore Paul O'Connell for the Irish Greco-Roman wrestling Olympic team.
Nigel Owens All set for the match now. My lucky boxers for the game. A xmas prezzie from my little cousins Ioan, Sion and Betsan
Gary Lineker I may not know much about rugby, but i can recognise greatness in any sport. Brian O'Driscoll is a great!
Nathan Hines Won't be the same watching Ireland without @BrianODriscoll. Amazing career old man.
Niamh Briggs What an amazing experience playing in #aviva yesterday....momentous occasion! Thanks for everyone for staying support was AMAZEBALLS
Fergus McFadden That standing ovation I got coming off the bench yesterday was amazing #Thanks
What the coaches said...
"I felt we got into really good scoring positions, didn't make the most of them and then we felt that we would break them down if we kept that pressure on. It's a credit to the players who started and started to turn the screw, and the players who came on and really added value and we got what we were good for."
JOE SCHMIDT (IRELAND)
“The first half, with little possession, we showed good defence. In the second half the possession didn't change, but our defence wasn't so competitive as it was in the first half. The major weakness was the team's possession. Even against France we were in the game... from a result point of view, this is our worst performance in my time.”
JACQUES BRUNEL (ITALY)
Ref watch - Nigel Owens
"You were stuck in that ruck I know, just make sure you make an effort to go." – Owens to Martin Castrogiovanni (6 mins).
"I'm happy with that and there's nothing in it?" – Owens on Luciano Orquera's late hit on Jonathan Sexton after his try (7 mins).
"You had an advantage for a knock-on, it was over. You made 20 metres." – Owens answers an Italian query (11 mins).
"Same scrum as last, no excuses now." – Owens keeps his front-rows in check (17 mins).
"Paul will you make sure you release when the ruck is on the ground." – Owens to Paul O'Connell (22 mins).
"Both of you were at fault, both of you work harder. Get closer please." – Owens to Mike Ross and his Italian opponent Lorenzo Cittadini (28 mins).
"No 7 you broke your binding and came around." – Owens awards Ireland a penalty after a maul brought them from outside their own '22' (42 mins).
"No 10 you were in front and you kept going." – Owens pings Sexton after a kick-chase (44 mins).
"That's not a good example to set to any one on or off the field. I'm going to check to see if it was nothing more than a scuffle."
– Owens to Paul O'Connell and Marco Bortolami after a coming together (47 mins).
"Get away quicker please." – Owens penalises Italy at the ruck (53 mins).
"I won't ask you again, don't put your hands on the floor."
– Owens gives replacement Italian prop Michele Rizzo a talking to (65 mins).
"I know we are getting tired but let's not spoil what has been a good scrum so far." – The front row get their final reminder of the day (74 mins).
"Last play." – Owens calls play back for a final penalty that leads to Jack McGrath's first international try and the last play of the game at the Aviva stadium (80 mins).
208 The Six Nations record number of tackles Italy made against Ireland.
2 Penalties Ireland conceded – an area that has improved drastically under Schmidt.
116 Rob Kearney made the most metres of any player on the pitch.
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