I SAID a few weeks ago that Declan Kidney needed a 'special one' against France. If anything, the events of last week have brought home to me how important that is.
We won't know until this evening whether Italy were much better than anticipated, and much better than previous seasons, or whether Ireland's gradual decline from the heights of Grand Slam 2009 is continuing. My gut feeling is that there is a lot of the former and a little of the latter, either way, the meeting with France this afternoon at the Aviva will tell a tale.
And it will undoubtedly set the tone for the remainder of Declan Kidney's tenure as Irish coach. Indeed, it may well be a major contributor to the timeline involved in that tenure.
I have alluded to the fact more than once that in 2009 we were freakishly lucky with injuries, or to be more precise, lack of them. I've also alluded to how many tight games were won by us which we lost in other years due to the bounce of the ball or a refereeing decision. The Ireland coach may well have used up his entire allocation of good fortune in his opening Six Nations campaign.
France come to town with a menacing presence and the potential to be absolutely anything on a rugby pitch. Last week they appeared to have banished many of the ghosts of the autumn series with a scintillating attacking display against a resurgent Scotland.
However, a porous defence showed just how inconsistent they can be and Ireland will be hoping that they bring more of that and less of their formidable attack to Dublin.
That, though, is probably too much to expect. France have rediscovered their liking for Dublin in recent years.
I'm sure Marc Lievremont will have his A game ready to take the field and if that's the case Ireland will have to reclaim the heights of 2009 to compete with, or even threaten, the French.
On top of this, some of Kidney's selections will have to show a doubting public just why they have been chosen. That goes particularly for Tomás O'Leary at scrumhalf. He needs to demonstrate why he got the nod from Kidney ahead of Eoin Reddan, Peter Stringer and even Isaac Boss because, quite frankly, he didn't offer us a whole lot of justification in Rome.
The view appears to be that O'Leary has been selected more for his physical and defensive qualities, than for anything else, because to be honest, judging on last week's performance, he hasn't been selected for his speed of service. If that is the type of scrum-half which Kidney is looking for, then Boss, on his form for Leinster this season, presents a real alternative.
The ace up O'Leary's sleeve is his capacity to break when in possession and to challenge the opposition back row. That is something he will need to do on a regular basis this afternoon if he is to take the pressure off his midfield backs, who looked a very ordinary bunch indeed against Italy.
Gordon D'Arcy in particular is something of a mystery in the light of his combined form with Jonathan Sexton and Brian O'Driscoll for Leinster, where they have been simply outstanding as a unit.
The questions that need to be answered in relation to what happened in Rome are: was it O'Leary, was it the Italian back line encroaching off side, was it just a bad day at the office or was it a combination of all three?
Today could well turn out to be a seminal game for this Ireland team and at the risk of repeating myself, they badly need to deliver a special one.
Sunday Indo Sport