Saturday 19 October 2019

Tony Ward: 'Men in green look a shadow of the players who swept all before them in 2018'

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Peter O’Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

This may have been mission accomplished on the scoreboard but, sadly, it was a ragged, fractured, bitty performance that was low on precision but interspersed with bits that made it tolerable.

Once again in this Six Nations we looked but a shadow of the squad that dominated 2018.

Certainly talk of challenging for the World Cup from a second place global ranking appears to be taking a massive psychological toll. The conviction of 12 months ago, even six months ago, is currently lacking. Yes of course injury is playing a very pertinent part but that comes with the territory and is much the same for every other country.

Against the Italians we were nervous and tetchy and if we're brutally honest the half-time scoreline (12-16) was fully reflective of the second quarter with the final blast of Glen Jackson's whistle to close the opening 40 not coming quickly enough.

With Tito Tebaldi and Tomasso Allan playing more like the proven double act they were facing and with Jayden Hayward creating countless problems from full-back, we were in trouble as we trooped off at the interval. Thoughts of 2013 were uppermost in my mind for fear it might happen again.

If there were positives against a fired-up Conor O'Shea-inspired home team they passed me by. The scrum was decent but the lineout a mess, regardless of personnel administering the so-called darts.

James Ryan was rightly rested but even at this stage in a fledgling international career he is close to irreplaceable. Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane did reasonably well with the former scoring and Dillane proving an irritant to the Italians.

Dave Kilcoyne had his moments while Peter O'Mahony (pictured) was the best from a back-row in which Seán O'Brien was some way short of the leader in possession we know him to be.

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At half-back, the trials and tribulations continue. For whatever reason - lack of match-time being the most obvious - we are simply not firing. By contrast, the Italians have now, in Tibaldi and Allan, the replacements for Alessandro Troncon and Diego Dominguez they have long craved.

Further out, Jacob Stockdale again looked what he is - pure opportunistic class. If there is a better finisher in the game at the highest level, I don't know him. His ability to fend off would-be tacklers is in the Jonah Lomu league. Every time he gets the ball under his arm he looks likely to score.

The loss of Bundee Aki after the first quarter didn't help and, while Keith Earls made good the emergency when moving in a position at centre, in the absence of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw we are struggling.

John Cooney and Jack Carty did get on for the final hurrah and that in itself, particularly for Carty gaining his first cap, has to be a positive.

And yet, even with bonus point in the bag, this was not a performance to remember. We were still worth the win but we struggled to make the proven gulf in class tell and that has to be a worry. Form is temporary and class is permanent but equally is confidence everything. It is a commodity in low supply right now.

We are still a good side but one playing well below our optimum ability. The atmosphere in the Stadio Olimpico was muted and if we're honest, so were the spirits of the vast Irish travelling support present.

Two wins from two since that defeat to the English marked much done but given the two massive challenges ahead, so much more to do.

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