new era Italian clash marks another crucial chapter in Andy Farrell’s blueprint for future Irish success
Those angling for some Georgian influence in the Six Nations will tomorrow get their wish; Nika Amashukeli will blow the whistle to start the contest; that is to say, the fragments of one.
When he ends it, Italy will have attained perhaps one of the most undistinguished landmarks the world’s most enduring championship has witnessed since its last expansion in 2000 – a 100th Six Nations defeat.
If you choose to wallow in the trivial jeopardy of sport to escape from the very real and present danger of the real world, there will be none available to you by the belatedly becalmed banks of the Dodder.
History begets the future; the last five results in this Dublin fixture have been, in chronological order, as follows – 42-10, 46-7, 58-15, 56-19, 50-17.
In the last three of those, 18 different Irishmen have scored 24 tries; both these totals will be added to tomorrow, with every member of an electric back three liable to score on their first appearance against the Italians.
There will be no peril admitted to the stadium, but there is a narrative, nonetheless, in terms of how this Irish team vault the hurdle, rather than by how much.
Andy Farrell has already proven himself as a coach who can alter the style of a team; now we can perhaps earmark the true beginnings of the process to change its substance, too.
That he does so in tandem with the keen acquiescence of his enduring captain Jonathan Sexton, but while he watches the kick-off, it marks another subtle shift in a squad dynamic being constantly shaped in the coach’s image.
This next stage of evolution does not demand a diluting of Sexton’s lingering influence but the over-reliance on it.
This much was already gleaned from a November sequence where the influx of a variety of playmaking alternatives underpinned Sexton’s influence.
The ultimate goal for a Farrell squad is that his template can remain consistent regardless of personnel; clearly, however, there may remain a gulf in standard, as clearly evidenced by the lack of depth in the propping positions.
Carbery’s challenge, not unlike the others charged with the less than onerous responsibility of swatting the Italians, is to press claims that any apparent chasm can be narrowed.
There is an intoxicating sense of anarchic swagger about this team, but they cannot afford to indulge it without first setting an abrasive tone.
This may be a vastly different physical test, but for all that, the narrative reported an Ireland side that was bullied into sublimation against France, something not entirely true.
Much of the damage was also self-inflicted, from poorly resourced rucks to technically inaccurate industry when they did arrive at breakdowns.
Re-asserting that sense of themselves as an aggressive, physical presence will be foremost in Farrell’s mind; the subsequent, hopefully entertaining quest to confirm a bonus-point and hefty winning margin will be a bonus.
Farrell is not foolhardy; with approximately €2m on the line for the higher team finishing in the championship table, he is as averse to recklessness in selection as he expects his squad to be in their avoidance of anarchic frivolity.
A demonstration of authority from Carbery will not be in deploying his many wonderful talents, but in how selfless he can be in guiding the team around to produce the best of theirs.
“I think it’s quick, I think it’s got skill, I think it’s growing in its knowledge of how we want to play,” Farrell says of the side.
The more comprehensive the foundations are laid, the swifter the execution of the enterprise that can sway a crowd thirsting for thrills and frills after dismay in Paris.
“You take a loss if you learn from the performance in the right manner,” notes the coach.
“We expect to put a few things right. And you have to be dominant in your set-piece.
“You’ve got to have fight and will and want to get the ball back in defence. And we have to be accurate and aggressive in our breakdown. Everything else will fall on the back of that.”
Although it may be history’s footnote, tomorrow marks another crucial chapter for Farrell’s Ireland in trying to accommodate the past while also planning for what lies ahead.
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