Mick Galwey: Lots for Ireland to work on to beat Scots and go for the slam against England
Some positives for Andy Farrell as victory achieved without many star names
I take it all back. For years I have argued that Ireland just do not have the depth of talent to compete in Test rugby when we are short of our top players.
Well yesterday Ireland marched on Rome and won without half of our starting team.
We didn’t win in style. Part of that is down to a much-improved Italian performance.
Part of it is down to a little lack of leadership that went with the fact that Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Garry Ringrose and Conor Murray weren’t starting.
We made mistakes that should not have happened – the Italian intercept try, missed tackles, poor defence at times – and, as it was in the win over France, the failure to push home tries when we were resident on the opposition try-line.
But there were positives too. Young players like Craig Casey, Tom O’Toole and Ryan Baird got time on the pitch – and Ross Byrne was well able to lead the team from out-half.
It was a crazy game in many ways. We had the try bonus point in the bag after 35 minutes, but we hadn’t got the game won until Mack Hansen’s second try in the 70th minute.
If you had offered me a 14-point win before the start I’d have taken your hand off for it.
We got it while not playing really well – and with loads to work on for the next day.
Now it is about how many of our injured warriors can come back for the game against Scotland on this day fortnight.
If Andy Farrell can get most of them back, Ireland have a real shot now at the Grand Slam.
But I believe Sexton, Ringrose and, perhaps, Tadhg Furlong will be vital to our cause in Murrayfield.
Finlay Bealham did not look good as he left the ground in a foot brace yesterday.
If Furlong is not fit for Scotland, Ireland’s fourth-choice tight-head prop will be on the bench against Scotland.
That will not be good at all.
We’ve now got depth in our rugby squad, but I don’t think we go that deep. It’s a big issue.
So much depends on at least getting half a match out of Furlong for Murrayfield.
I’ve been preaching here for a while that Italy are improving as a rugby nation, and we saw that in this game.
They had done their homework on Ireland and attacked us where Garry Ringrose should have been, with two No 12 centres on the pitch, when we needed a natural 13.
And, of course, I’ve never seen an Italian pack that didn’t like a good battle at the scrum.
They had us going backwards for a while in that set-piece, but Ireland settled down and began to apply the power.
With one poor exception, when Ireland were planning what we could do off an attacking line-out before we actually won the thing, the line-out functioned well.
And that’s good for the future because Tadhg Beirne and O’Mahony are such huge contributors to a successful Irish line-out.
Tadhg won’t be around for the rest of this Six Nations and Peter didn’t play for much of yesterday’s game. Yet it all still worked.
In attack, our lines of running and little set plays were a joy to behold.
Hansen, Bundee Aki and James Lowe were always looking to offload the ball, to keep the attacks moving.
And Josh van der Flier always seemed to be there to support them and keep the move going.
If Italian rugby is improving, and it is, one thing they need to work on is their tackling.
Too many times yesterday Ireland were able to ghost through tackles, half-hearted ones.
Ireland were much better than their hosts in that department, when they hit they hit hard and their men went down.
But there were enough missed tackles for Farrell to have plenty of words with his team during the video review.
And maybe that’s the best thing to come out of our trip to Rome.
We didn’t win with everything nice and rosy.
Let there be no spoofing or codding ourselves, what we saw in Rome won’t be good enough in Edinburgh – there’s work, a lot of it, to be done in the next two weeks.
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