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So we roll into round 2 of the 6 Nations and sitting here on a Monday morning I am a broken man.
That is mainly from my K-1 fight yesterday, the rugby has been great to watch. Starting in Lansdowne/Aviva Stadium where the Italians made a welcome visit. Welcome because they are always great craic in the seats and we are always hopeful of a lot of scores on the pitch. No disrespect intended there, it is just the way it is.
A big score was wanted and expected. Coming out of it the big score was scored, but the changes made let the Italians into the match they were never going to win.
Ireland opened strong again which is massively important. They put the Italians under pressure from the opening whistle. Some stubborn early defence was beaten to get on the scoreboard at 11 minutes with Robbie Henshaw getting in after a few phases of battering the Italian defence. Fantastic line picked by Henshaw to score, you can see him lining it up 2 phases back which is great to see. It was all done on purpose. The team looked hungry.
Murrays try at 14 was a mixture of driving, circus like handling and ballerina like feet from Leavy Conan and finally Murray to finish it off. Very comfortable, but important to see these moves work in real live situations. Especially considering they didn’t get a chance to try last week in Paris.
Furlong had to leave the pitch with a hamstring issue, the entire stadium and every couch in the land suddenly became massively worried. Not for this game but for the coming games. In stepped Andrew Porter, 22 years old 123kg. It was like he had 50 caps on him. A massively assured performance all day especially considering he may have thought he wouldn’t be called on for an hour. Well worth watching the match again and just watching him and his work.
With Porters introduction the team remained stable, Bundee Aki score his first try in green followed by a Leavy turnover and Aki finding a gap and Earls putting the bonus point up on the board before 40 minutes. Easy work.
28-0 at half time.
Ireland starting the second half strong again, the championship minutes. Parisse with a bad pass caused by pressure was picked up by Henshaw who was in for his second try at 44 minutes. It looked like he separated his shoulder while scoring, it looked very bad and I wouldn’t expect him to be back in action for a while. Hopefully no surgery is needed and hopefully Gary Ringrose is match fit.
Larmour (as in armour) was brought on a bit earlier than planned and the stadium sat in expectance. Not very fair on the lad. He will be an epically consistent player in blue and green going forward but he is 20. Let’s just chill a bit. Let’s just let him get into the game, find his way and learn from the players around him. Not only did he have to contend with the nerves of a test debut, but he had to contend with the expectations of the crowd. Not very fair.
What where you doing at 20?!?
Rory Best scored at 52 mins, a proper forwards driving try. Carberry was on the pitch at this stage. Slowing the shape was leaving and Italy scored a really good try at 55 minutes. Very nice rugby, they spotted a gap and backed themselves to score. Well worth a watch. Again Ireland had a micro lapse in concentration that allowed players past them. Joe will be giving out the hairdryer treatment on that one.
Stockdale finished another pornographic move to get the Ireland train back running again and it looked like another couple of tries for Ireland would look good on the 6 Nations table.
Italy got back on the board, and the Italian full back showed Larmour his heels and space opened followed by a lackadaisical defence allowed an easy try for the visitors. This is the passage of play that will have the media turning on the debutant fullback. Sitting on the couch we all thought the same thing, they are utilising the self-fulfilling prophecy, only thing is at 20 years old, they will not get it right this early.
The issue here was the scoreboard. That Italian team are not worth 14 points. Since the substitutions at 9 and 10 (Marmion on for Murray) the team has lost a bit of shape. The Italians have spotted this and have been clawing some scores back. They were never going to win the game, but the points are a plus for them
A Stockdale intercept followed by afterburners put him through for his second. A classy glory hound try. So we are in the home straight, it should be an easy finish?
75 minutes the Italians strike. Quick hands and it was a bit too easy for them to score. This was not good from Ireland. Italy looked like they could get a bonus point and would have if it wasn’t for Keith Earls sprinting like bolt the length of the pitch at 79 minutes to deny Bellini a score that the Italians probably deserved in the second half.
It finished 56-19
Ireland made 100 of 106 tackles, the Italians made 148 of 175. Ireland had only 3 penalties conceded to the Italians 11. Italy had 37% possession and Ireland conceded 3 more turnovers with 15.
Not many top teams would worry if Ireland where to play like that. There were some improvements over last week as there always was going to be, but the Italian tries where caused by a lack of concentration from Ireland. The gap between the starters and subs in key 9 and 10 positions is quite big at this stage. Should Carberry leave Leinster to gain more time at 10 will be the narrative, I was against it, but after this game, it might not be the worst idea. Marmion is a Joe player, McGrath may be the best bet going forward from here.
A frustratingly big win for Ireland. Hard to know how to feel. A week’s break might be the best thing for us all.