Not by any means perfect but Ireland, along with France and England, have their campaign off to a winning start. The last minute withdrawal of Sean O’Brien was no help but with the injury list still lengthy Ireland have questions unanswered after round one.
Sean O’Brien pulling up with a hamstring tweak minutes before kick off was the most recent of “not part of the plan” incidents Joe Schmidt had to contend with on Saturday. The absence of Jamie Heaslip was to be less of a detrimental incident with a player of O’Brien’s stature on the field and full credit to Tommy O’Donnell who filled his boots with a crucial try to top it off and Peter O’Mahony who took on more leadership duties than planned. Ireland got an unexpected upper hand in the scrum, which was essential with a hit and miss line out, and it looked like the Italians would wear out far sooner than sixty minutes into proceedings.
The resolve of the Azzurri cannot be questioned however and though they were disappointing in execution they were faultless in ambition. Italy have one massive negative to take from the game which is their record of letting themselves be put down by losing their opening bout. It is hard for any team to stay in the fight if they kick off with a loss but Italy in particular start big in the Six Nations and slip from there on game by game traditionally, nipping this trend in the butt in 2015 is paramount. Against Ireland they brought less physicality than expected and Kelly Haimona made himself relatively absent at out half, only raising his head to dot down a disallowed try. Life only gets harder for the Italians next week when they travel to Twickenham and it is already hard to see what Jacques Brunel can do to correct their course before taking on England, who have started their campaign strongest of the six teams.
For Ireland, Joe Schmidt has already said they are thirty to forty percent below the benchmark set by England and he is spot on the money. France didn’t set the world alight at home to Scotland and certainly don’t post the same threat for Ireland next week as they have in years gone by, but there was a drastic lack of finishing ability on display by the green army yesterday and a solution has got to be found for this to be a successful tournament.
Italy 3 – 26 Ireland
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