But for a couple of previous cases of the yips, Rónan Kelleher would most likely be Ireland’s first-choice hooker by now. That much is becoming clearer with each passing Test match.
he primary function of any hooker will always be to nail his or her lineout throwing, but what Kelleher offers Ireland around the pitch is too important to ignore.
As with any reasoned analysis of yet another facile win over an ever hapless Italian side, the obvious caveat of the sub-standard opposition applies.
With Kelleher securing all but one of his throws in Rome last Saturday, he solidified his basics and packed in a whole lot more to put himself in pole position to start against Scotland in a fortnight.
In international rugby, the more powerful team invariably ends up winning, and although Ireland are not always going to come out on top in the physical exchanges, in Kelleher, they have a strong all-round hooker who looks at home at this level.
For all that Rob Herring has done a fine job over the last year, the Ulster man doesn’t offer enough around the park, particularly as a ball carrier.
Herring is certainly the best thrower in the current squad and even though securing the ball at the set-piece is a vital component of any game-plan, Kelleher gives Ireland a much-needed fresh dynamic, especially in attack.
Having only just turned 23, these are still very early days in Kelleher’s international career but having made his first Six Nations start against Italy, the stage is now set for him to kick on and make the number two jersey his own.
Not that his performance at the Stadio Olimpico was flawless, yet having proved that he is a capable thrower with several inch perfect darts, Andy Farrell has a very welcome selection headache on his hands.
“Rónan had his chance, I thought he was good,” the Ireland boss said.
Paul O’Connell has been working closely with Kelleher since the former Lions skipper came in as forwards coach and having that kind of influence can only benefit the Leinster man as he looks to tighten up the nuts and bolts of his game.
His first lineout throw over the top to the on-rushing Robbie Henshaw was as accurate as they come and it should have led to a try for Iain Henderson, only for the TMO Romain Poite to somehow rule that the Ireland lock had lost control of the ball.
Another accurate throw helped set the platform for Garry Ringrose’s try shortly after, as Kelleher found Tadhg Beirne, before the hooker smashed three rucks in quick succession to ensure Ireland had quick play to play off.
Kelleher’s rucking was very strong throughout and another important clear out in the lead up to Will Connors’ first try also highlighted his power around the breakdown.
Not content with smashing an Italian body at the ruck, Kelleher quickly repositioned himself and played a clever reverse pass to Johnny Sexton, which ended in Connors scoring in the corner.
When Rory Best retired following the 2019 World Cup, he left an obvious void, and it hasn’t yet been filled.
Herring continues to offer a solid option, but if Ireland are to compete with the best and most powerful teams, they need much more than ‘solid’.
Kelleher’s seven carries at the weekend were more than what Herring managed in both of his previous two starts.
In fact, Herring has only managed nine carries in 190 minutes of this season’s Six Nations, whereas Kelleher has made 14 carries in just 84 minutes.
The Ulster man might not be in the team for his ball carrying, yet Farrell will be mindful that he needs all of his forwards to be able to pack a considerable punch.
It’s important to note that it is not just a case of racking up the numbers, but rather looking at the impact Kelleher makes with ball in hand.
When he ran over Alun Wyn Jones in Wales a few weeks ago, it was the clearest sign yet of his raw power.
We saw more of the same against Italy as he repeatedly punched holes in the defence and crucially, drew opposition players onto him, which freed up space elsewhere.
There were a couple of errors amid the impressive performance as one lineout misfired while an Ireland maul was bundled into touch with Kelleher in possession at the tail.
Then there was the unfortunate knock on from the quick-tap penalty, which should have led to another CJ Stander try, but these are minor issues that can easily be ironed out.
The most pleasing thing for Kelleher was that he had a strong day at the set-piece, both at the lineout and scrum.
Ireland doesn’t produce too many power athletes like him, so getting the best out of him going forward must be a priority for Farrell.
Ryan Baird very much falls into the same category and the 21-year-old debutant’s all-action cameo off the bench suggested that he, like Kelleher, will be a key player for club and country over the coming years.
The pair both came through St Michael’s and now that they have arrived at the top level together, Farrell has two huge talents who can seriously enhance his options.
“He is a man who never stops working,” Baird said of Kelleher.
“His attitude towards all the small details everyday. He’s always growing. He is such a hard worker and I don’t think you would make it in sport or any environment without being a hard worker and that’s what he is. He is a great athlete at the same time.”
Baird could easily be talking about himself in that last sentence, which is hugely exciting from an Irish point of view.
Scotland will, of course, pose a much tougher test than the Italians in two weeks, but even still, Kelleher is fast becoming too influential not to start for Ireland.
1 – Rónan Kelleher makes up for conceding an early penalty by winning one back, as the hooker gets himself into a textbook jackal position to win an important turnover for his side.
2 – Kelleher's rucking was superb all afternoon and we see a good example of that here as he clears Italy off the ball, ensuring a clean platform for Ireland to play off.
3 – A couple of phases later, Kelleher showcases his ball-handling skills as he plays a clever reverse pass to Johnny Sexton who runs a trademark loop, which allows the out-half find Jordan Larmour, who in turn offloads for Will Connors to score a cracking try.
4 – Although the play was eventually called back for a forward pass by James Lowe, Kelleher's anticipation and indeed, pace to keep up with the winger, was indicative of his work-rate and intelligence around the pitch.
5 – Kelleher's ability to power through contact makes him a ferocious ball carrier and he will only get better the more he plays at Test level. Here he smashes over the gain-line despite the attention of two Italian defenders to put Ireland on the front foot again.
6 – Five-metre penalties are very much back in vogue and Ireland should have scored off one here. Kelleher takes on the responsibility and although he makes a dent in the blue wall, Andrew Porter's leg inadvertently brushes off the ball, which causes a knock on as CJ Stander has a try chalked off.