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paris hope If you'd told me Ireland would go into the last game with a chance to win the 6 Nations, I'd have bitten your hand off

Farrell's men get the job done and Six Nations fate is in our own hands

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Hugo Keenan celebrates with his Irish team-mates during the 6 Nations match at the Aviva Stadium

Hugo Keenan celebrates with his Irish team-mates during the 6 Nations match at the Aviva Stadium

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Hugo Keenan celebrates with his Irish team-mates during the 6 Nations match at the Aviva Stadium

Job done. A win, a bonus point for four tries, our score difference padded out with late tries, and so off we go to Paris with our Six Nations fate in our own hands next Saturday night.

It's no more than anyone expects from a home game against Italy these days, but Ireland, in the strangest of circumstances at the Aviva Stadium yesterday afternoon, did what they had to do and now take on the much tougher task of beating France.

Before I write about that, I'm just wondering will we look back on this match as a generation shift in Irish rugby.

Maybe it won't match the famous day almost 20 years ago, when Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara, John Hayes, Simon Easterby and Shane Horgan all made their Irish debuts against Scotland.

If some of the new boys we saw yesterday contribute as much as that quintet over the next few years, Irish rugby will be in a good place.

But we had Hugo Keenan, Will Connors, Ed Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park make their debuts and the likes of Caelan Doris, Ross Byrne and Dave Heffernan added to their still small caps total.

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Johnny Sexton enjoys dotting the ball down for his try against the Italians. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton enjoys dotting the ball down for his try against the Italians. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Johnny Sexton enjoys dotting the ball down for his try against the Italians. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

And still we played with a fizz and a spark that was impressive considering the team were playing for the first time in seven months.

Keenan was superb, not just for his two tries, but in everything he did around the pitch.

What a pity that he and Connors couldn't have their families there to see this special day. Believe me, you never forget your first cap - and certainly not when you score a try while winning it.

The arrival of Keenan on the scene means coach Andy Farrell is now coming down with options for the wings.

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Ireland's Hugo Keenan breaks clear to score

Ireland's Hugo Keenan breaks clear to score

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Ireland's Hugo Keenan breaks clear to score

Andrew Conway is in place, and Keith Earls is coming back from injury, while Leinster flyer James Lowe is qualified to play for Ireland from next month.

And, of course, Jacob Stockdale can move back to the wing when Jordan Larmour is fit to resume at full-back

It's a plate filled with riches for Farrell, for whom the Garry Ringrose knock in the first half was the only blot on this day.

Will Garry be passed fit to play next week? A lot may hang on that call by the Docs.

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Italy's Luca Morisi is tackled by Johnny Sexton and Will Connors

Italy's Luca Morisi is tackled by Johnny Sexton and Will Connors

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Italy's Luca Morisi is tackled by Johnny Sexton and Will Connors

For I suspect we will need Ringrose's power and trickery to get the tries that will break down the French.

Up front, Connors was superb at openside flanker, a well deserved Man of the Match.

He really has come through the ranks this season, dislodging as good a player as Josh van der Flier for province and country.

Doris too, grows and grows with every minute of his career and did you see Peter O'Mahony's 'one-hander' for that late try?

It was a message from the Munster warrior that he should not be forgotten.

Of course, the most significant thing to happen the Irish back-row this weekend was the few minutes of action that Dan Leavy saw for Leinster on Friday night.

Eighteen months out with injury mean the brilliant Leave is hardly going to be risked in an Ireland shirt this side of Christmas.

But after it, in a 2021 Six Nations that may be delayed by a couple of months in the hope of getting supporters into the grounds, a flying Leavy would be a massive option.

While all these new players put up their hands yesterday, it was the tried and trusted half-back partnership of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton that did the business when the game was still to be won.

Johnny came into the game gradually and finished his involvement with a try that was hard-earned and surely savoured by Sexton.

At least now we've a game under our belt, a game that was won well.

France will come in cold to the big match and that will surely lead to errors in their play, something that Ireland can take advantage off.

Because Italy weren't good enough to secure points off some early Irish dithering.

Another asset Ireland have as they go to Paris, is that the France-Ireland game will follow Wales-Scotland and Italy-England on a long day of Test rugby next Saturday.

So our heroes will know what they have to do to win the Six Nations.

Looking at Italy's display yesterday, you might fear that if Ireland could put 50 points on them, England would manage 70.

And that could leave Ireland needing not just a win, but a bonus point win, to claim the Six Nations title.

A long shot, indeed. And a long shot when you think how we knew this season might be about be changes in the team as the likes of Rob Kearney and Devin Toner were eased out, having already lost Rory Best immediately after the World Cup.

But look, have we forgotten where we were back at the start of February, coming off yet another disastrous World Cup?

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 Ireland players celebrate a try by Will Connors

Ireland players celebrate a try by Will Connors

SPORTSFILE

Ireland players celebrate a try by Will Connors

Remember too, this is the Six Nations year when Ireland play both England and France away. We usually don't expect to do much in that season.

Me, if someone had said back then that Ireland would go into the last game of the Six Nations with a chance to win the thing, I'd have bitten your hand off for it.

But yes, I admit it, I would never have expected to have to wait for the last day of October for the chance.

FIXTURES

Sat Oct 31: Wales v Scotland, 2.15; Italy v England, 4.45; France v Ireland 8.05pm

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