Monday, February 13, 2017


Last week I kicked off my writeup of Scotland v Ireland by trotting out a few examples of classic excuses we generally dream up when things go wrong.

For this more succesful outing in Rome I’d like to start by looking at some well-worn sporting clichés, like one we heard over and over after the final whistle : “You can only play what’s in front of you.

I got myself in a bit of bother on Twitter on Sunday evening.  Since I started this site back in 2008 I have been waging a very lighthearted campaign to get everyone to stop referencing the same Michael Caine movie whenever Ireland’s opponents are Italy, or indeed when a province is playing Treviso, Zebre or Aironi (remember them?).

So I was casually scrolling through my timeline when I saw the phrase appear a couple of times which led me to register my ongoing dismay.  Little did I know, however, that the sources I was poking fun at were none other than the excellent and also the “mother ship”, aka the IRFU account itself!!!! Oops!!!  

That had me tucking into humble pie fairly quickly!!!  But in my defence, it’s not that I’m against the use of cliches...with so many matches to harp on, you’re bound to find yourself repeating the same phrases over and over, I do it myself regularly.  It’s just maybe we could try to weed out the more obvious ones, or at very least adapt them a bit to mix things up...for example, how about this attempt to summarize Italy v Ireland:

Ireland’s determination won the match; Italy’s mediocrity decided by how much.

When it comes to the headline, as you can see I chose to ignore puns relating to the opposition, as well as those which might point to one of our two hat-trick scorers.  Instead I want to dedicate this to Paddy Jackson, to whom at least some credit can go for pretty much every one of the 9 converted tries we put on the scoreboard on Saturday.

It is fast becoming a tradition on the site after big wins for Leinster or Ireland to go through all the tries one by one so let’s go that route again here..

  1. EARLS (1) - Not the best try of the day, but the most important in how it was constructed.  We received the kickoff in our own 22 and basically marched our way up the field and pummelled Conor O’Shea’s men until they surrendered their line; it was quite stunning to watch over again - we simply would not take “no try” for an answer.  All the hallmarks of Schmidtball were on display...retrieving box kicks, clearing out, clean lineouts, power plays, drawing penalties, strong carrying...until eventually a fine miss pass from Jackson found Earls open on the touchline to break the deadlock on 11 minutes.  Jackson adds the two, 0-7
  2. STANDER (1) - We haven’t lost the knack for striking back immediately after conceding.  Canna had narrowed the margin with a penalty but we forced a turnover from the restart and there we were on the front foot again.  19 phases, with at least two penalty advantages in our favour before it’s sent to the other touchline where this time it’s CJ Stander in position to bring it the rest of the way.  Jackson somehow persuades a dead duck to flop over the upright, 3-14.
  3. EARLS (2) - Now Jackson is feeling free to mix things up.  This time we get into their 22 thanks to a cleverly-worked switch move which sees Zebo dance his way through.  A few more phases and we have an overlap back on Earlsy’s wing and bish, bash, bosh, he’s over again.  In complete contrast to the last conversion, Jackson hits an absolute beauty from the touchline. 3-21.
  4. STANDER (2) - Pub quiz fans take note!!!!  I guarantee you’ll be asked who got the first ever bonus point try in the Six Nations at some stage down the line.  And again we scored shortly after conceding...a succession of pings led to a Donnacha Ryan yellow card (pretty much deserved though why the Italians had yet to see a card I’ll never know).  Losing a man didn’t stop last minute replacement Niall Scannell from barging to the 5m line for his Munster team-mate to take it the rest of the way.  Jackson again from the tee, 10-28.
  5. STANDER (3) - Match was pretty much over that the interval, but to evoke yet another cliché, we had a “marker to lay down”.  This try may have both completed CJ’s hat-trick and ensured him yet another man of the match award, but he’ll surely doff his cap to his fellow back rowers Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien for their part in the build up.  O’Shea won’t be too pleased with the tackling overall, but from this point on especially.  Yes, another Jackson conversion, 10-35.
  6. GILROY (1) - In my preview I scratched my head at the Ulsterman’s inclusion at 23, but I qualified it with this : “maybe he’ll be exactly what we’ll be looking for to stretch out that margin in the closing stages.”  He actually came on for Robbie Henshaw quite early and it took our re-configured backline a while to fall into sync, but after another strong buildup from our back row, once it got to Gilroy he displayed his forte, ie pinning his ears back and gunning for the line.  COnversion number 6 goes over for his Ulster team-mate, 10-42.
  7. RINGROSE - I was scanning twitter at this point to see if someone was pointing out that Leinster players were yet to find their way onto the scorecard, for the record, I saw nothing about it.  Arguably this was the best try of the bunch, and it includes a manoeuvre Ringrose does often and makes look all too easy, namely darting back against the grain before emerging from behind the forwards and hot-stepping a back or two before finding his way to the line.  Seven out of seven now for Paddy, 10-49.
  8. GILROY (2) - Fair play to the Italians, they had a go towards the end to get a consolation, and I was convinced we had an interception try in our immediate future.  In the end it wasn’t quite that, but almost.  CJ had already been a winger on the day so why not have a go at out-half….shortly after a turnover he booted the ball upfield and the bounce fell absolutely perfectly for Gilroy who coasted home.  Oh, and of course Paddy obliged with another two to make it 10-56.
  9. GILROY (3) - We had a Most Important Try of the Day, we had a Best Try of the day, this was the Most Applaudable.  You’re up by 46 points and you win a penalty at midfield with the clock crossing the 80 minute mark.  You normally boot it into Row Z, right?  Not this day.  Kieran Marmion taps and goes, we run through a few phases, and Jackson lobs a kick to Gilroy to add yet another final nail to the Italian coffin.  Fittingly, the last action of the contest befell Paddy Jackson who rounded off a perfect day with the boot to end it at 10-63.

There is no doubt that Conor O’Shea has his work cut out; Italy have extremely poor in their first two games, and they were both at home so we can probably watch their impending visit to Twickers from behind the sofa.  I have to assume that Parisse wasn’t 100% and there were mistakes aplenty from those around him - it was an awful day at the office and one which only adds to the argument of those like myself who are in the “Pro-Relegation” camp with regard to Six Nations reform.

But as Irish fans all we can do is look at ourselves.  The reform that has happened in this tournament means we now have two bonus points to bring forward, which puts us in a decent position despite our opening day loss.  Does that mean the road ahead will be as easy as it was on Saturday?  Of course not, and this leads to the more important question...what, if any, changes do we make to our lineup?

As I have said, I dedicate this win to Paddy Jackson, it was a fine outing.  It probably won’t surprise you, however, that I believe Johnny Sexton should return if fit.  Yes, that is rough on the Ulsterman in some ways, but for me, it is logical in others - blame my blue goggles if you must.  

The debate has gone on in the ruggersphere since the full time whistle blew in Rome, and in Jackson’s favour I have seen reference made to the first test in South Africa, to Australia and to the fact that he is a form player who is currently in possession of the jersey and thus it would be hard to drop him.  All of that is true, but if you are to credit him with the wins, you cannot forget the 2nd and 3rd tests in SA, the second test v NZ and indeed the first half in Murrayfield.  Remember - I’m not saying those defeats were all his fault, but nor were all the victories fully down to him either.

Jackson’s successes have ended the debate over who should be in the matchday squad, and indeed his recent form means Sexton can’t take his starting role for granted down the line.  But in my book, he can definitely take his starting role for granted if he is fit in two weeks’ time; his CV plus his form this season are more than enough evidence.

And that’s not the only area where Joe’s preferred picks have had impressive replacements.  Niall Scannell was really chucked into the deep end after Rory Best’s late withdrawal and had an outstanding game.  Again, I can’t see him shifting the incumbent, but Sean Cronin might be anxious about getting back the 16 jersey.

Then there’s Jared Payne.  Were he fit right now, I’d expect Joe to put him back at outside centre.  But Garry Ringrose’s progress at both Pro12 and Champions Cup levels has been on a steep upward curve since his debuts and I can’t see his test performances being much different so “The Pain” would want to be back soon!  It wasn’t just his try that impressed against the Italians...there were slick offloads and solid defence thrown in as well.

Victorious and all as we were in Rome, I do have some concerns about our game plan.  Maybe we’re a little too reliant on earning penalties?  Against both Scotland and Italy we had the referee’s arm worn out, it was outstretched so many times for advantages, yet warnings and yellow cards were never forthcoming.

Possibly this had something to do with the “homer ref” principle.  If so, then we should see a better return against France and England.  But I’m not so sure we can rely on that being the case.  It could be that the Six Nations refs this year just don’t want to reward teams that are looking for penalties, and if THAT is the case, it would hurt us.  

But we have two weeks to sort all of that out.  For now we should just enjoy what was a perfect weekend for Irish rugby.  Wins for Ireland senior men, senior women and Under-20 men.  Wins in the Pro12 for all four provinces.  Never mind the quality often do we get to say that?

And by the time the French teams come to town, hopefully the fans from all four provinces will be able to come together and get behind the boys in green no matter who is selected.  Because this title is still very much winnable. JLP


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019