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six nations Never mind win over Italy, what we do against Scotland will tell us exactly where Ireland stand

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Ireland's Johnny Sexton and Billy Burns celebrate victory over Italy

Ireland's Johnny Sexton and Billy Burns celebrate victory over Italy

Ireland's Johnny Sexton and Billy Burns celebrate victory over Italy

There’s just one downside of Ireland’s thumping win in Rome yesterday — we now have to wait until this day fortnight, against Scotland in Edinburgh, to find out the true measure of this Irish rugby team.

Yes, we hockeyed Italy in this one. But we lost narrowly to France when Peter O’Mahony was sent off, when James Ryan only played the first 20 minutes of the first match, when Johnny Sexton only featured for 60 minutes, with prop Tadhg Furlong only coming back from a long injury absence.

We weren’t bad in those two losses to Wales and France, we weren’t as good as we looked against Italy.

We’re somewhere in between and what we do against Scotland will tell us exactly where we stand.

We’ll not beat Scotland or England by 38 points, but if we play as we did against Italy, we might be able to win by six or eight.

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Mattia Bellini of Italy is tackled by  Jack Conan, Billy Burns and Will Connors

Mattia Bellini of Italy is tackled by Jack Conan, Billy Burns and Will Connors

Mattia Bellini of Italy is tackled by Jack Conan, Billy Burns and Will Connors

Furlong’s return to the pitch is huge. It gives us two top-notch front rows of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Furlong to start with Cian Healy, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter to come on.

I mean, Kilcoyne, in 50 minutes on the pitch yesterday, had 13 tackles. For a prop that’s phenomenal.

Tadhg Beirne, moved from the second row to the side of the scrum was immense, winning Man of the Match for putting in a massive shift.

And Will Connors, picked at seven, got through some amount of work.

He made big tackles and then somehow managed to roll away and be ready for the next tackle. And there was no sliding off any tackle by the Leinster flanker - he put you down and you stayed down.

We got a glimpse of Ireland’s future too with Ryan Baird coming on for his first cap.

This kid, and he is just a kid of 21, is a colossus and going to be a huge player for Irish rugby for the next dozen years.

Did you notice how, in the time Baird was on the pitch, every Irish line-out we had was called on him? And James Ryan was on the pitch at the time.

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It would have been so easy to give the ball to the senior man. No, they fed Baird every time and he didn’t let Ireland down. At half-back Jamison Gibson-Park was lively and sharp and Craig Casey was even livelier and sharper when he came on.

With Conor Murray trying to get fit and John Cooney and Luke McGrath still in the wings, Ireland are deep in rescources at scrum-half.

We’ve quite a few out-halves too, but only one Johnny Sexton. I thought he quietly commanded the game against Italy and was back to something like his best. He made plenty of little breaks that didn’t matter too much in the greater scheme of things.

However they will matter against Scotland and Sexton will be the man in Murrayfield. Our backs were brilliant, running beautiful lines. The one that Hugo Keenan took to come into the line and take Garry Ringrose’s pass was superb and something that you just can’t coach. You either have it or you haven’t.

After two games in which too much of our backplay was static and uninspiring, Ireland got going against Italy.

We used offloads, moving the ball on in the tackle, which is the only way, as far as I can see, to breakdown the really well-organised defences we see in international rugby these days.

Of course, it will be harder in our last two matches. Scotland and England will try to tackle and wrap up at the same time – making sure the off-load becomes either impossible or very high risk with the possibility of a knock-on, or, worse again, lost possession.

Italy just could not match Ireland’s physicality here and we had our way with the offloads. We’ve now two more weeks to work on them and move the ball on that split-second faster. That’s what we are going to need.

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Hugo Keenan celebrates with team mate Garry Ringrose

Hugo Keenan celebrates with team mate Garry Ringrose

Hugo Keenan celebrates with team mate Garry Ringrose

The Scotland game is now huge for two reasons. Win it, give it a right rattle against England in Dublin and then we might have a seaosn of three wins and two very narrow losses in games where, as I said, Lady Luck, was not with us.

The other reason the joust with the Jocks is huge is in the matter of the Lions squad.

Only a few Scots have been chosen on the last few Lions touring parties. Without Xander Ferguson’s sending off against Wales, they might have a Triple Crown to play for against us.

They are going to be looking to put eight or nine players into Warren Gatland’s squad. If they do it will be at Irish players’ expense, because you know that Gatty is going to pick plenty of Welsh and English ones.

So lads like Keenan, Robbie Henshaw, Beirne and CJ Stander, who might be on the fringe of selection right now, have to get the better of their Scottish counterparts in this game. That’s how much it matter to how they will spend their summer.

I was impressed too by Ireland’s desire as expressed in Sexton’s after-match comments.

Clearly, everything about our first two matches in this Six Nations was festering within the group for the last two weeks.

The bad luck, the injuries, the narrow losses. It seemed as though the lads had had enough and were going to take it out on someone and Italy were the ones in the way.

What can you say about the Italians? They’ve got a few good new players, but the results still aren’t happening for them. That’s 30 consecutive losses for the Italians in the tournament – many of them sadly by huge margins.

You have to wonder if it wasn’t for the TV audience, and money, they bring to the party whether the Italians would still be part of the competition.

With rugby in this part of the world short a year’s gate receipts, there’s no chance they will tossed out of the Six Nations in the short-term.

But every other team simply targeting the Italian match for a bonus-point win, you wonder about their long-term future in the Six Nations – unless they win a game or two soon.

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