After a 34-20 win for Ireland over Italy in their Six Nations game, here are our five takeaways from the game at the Stadio Olimpico.
Ireland’s dream of the Grand Slam lives on – just now
The job was done for Ireland when they picked up a bonus point win against the Azzurri. But viewers will know that things were far from easy for Andy Farrell’s men in Rome.
Italy gave Ireland a colossal scare in Rome as the hosts took another step forward as a team and that was to scare Wales, who played on 11 .
But for Ireland, the Grand Slam dream remains a possibility and with several players absent today, affording valuable minutes for their underwriters, many lessons will be learned from this outing.
There were some positives but in truth it was too close to be comforted and a stark reminder of just how important the likes of Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and other top-tier players are to this team.
It’s okay to kick, Italy
Kieran Crowley’s men are a great team to watch these days and part of that is their willingness to risk their arm, but they need to find more balance in their game. Her departure arguably cost her in the Six Nations opener against France, which put her in trouble again on Saturday. There’s a reason few top teams act from deep and Italy need to learn the value of territory.
Even when the Italians kick, they don’t offer enough protection to scrum half Stephen Varney and give the Irish a free hand to bring him down. Italy are improving a number of aspects of their game but getting the right exits is absolutely crucial if they want to progress further and beat top division teams.
Other Azzurri youngsters show their class
A lot of attention has rightly been given to Paolo Garbisi and Ange Capuozzo, two players who have already shown their class regularly at international level, but others are also stepping up. Lorenzo Cannone had a good Autumn Nations Series, but he certainly didn’t have the same coverage as the other two.
However, we doubt it will stay that way after seeing a strong game against the Irish. The number eight was outstanding in the loose, made two brilliant breaks – one led to the break – and always made up ground with the ball in hand.
Cannone was joined by Tommaso Menoncello as one of Italy’s standouts. The young centre, who made his Six Nations debut last year, was another who made a significant impression with his power and pace and caused problems for the Irish. Menoncello has played on the wing but he is far away and will hopefully play more in the center in the future.
Garry Ringrose’s absence leaves Ireland’s midfield vulnerable
Ringrose was named in the starting line-up for the clash but withdrew from the game due to an injury he picked up against France. This prompted a change in midfield, with Bundee Aki moving to outside center and Stuart McCloskey recapturing the number 12 knight.
McCloskey and Aki excelled in attack, with both players showing their physicality and softer skills, especially in the first half. Aki shone in the stats with a try and two assists in the first half, but McCloskey played a key role in all of the results.
However, it was on defense that Ringrose’s absence was really felt. The Azzurri regularly found gaps between the two, with Ross Byrne, who took over the starting jersey, not helping.
Lorenzo Cannone kept putting holes through the pair in the second half and Capuozzo also found space, particularly on Aki’s outside. While Aki excelled with the ball in hand, he often turned slowly on defense and was caught several times in a position he wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
Ringrose makes sharp and smart decisions defensively on the outside center and Robbie Henshaw is an expert at doing the same. Without either of the two operating there, Ireland looks worse defensively.
Ireland’s tighthead stocks continue to be hit
With Tadhg Furlong’s absence from the opening rounds being a fairly significant loss, not just physically but in terms of his presence and aura on the field, Ireland turned to Connacht’s Finlay Bealham, who put on admirable minutes on the field field has jumped in on the coal front.
However, a knee problem suffered in the first half on Saturday has further exhausted their tighthead options and while Tom O’Toole has been outstanding off the bench in recent games, who’s the next cab in line should Furlong find himself not recover in time? round four?
Roman Salanoa was recently called up to training camp and looks like the most likely option for Matchday 23 if both Furlong and Bealham are sidelined. But a Test rookie coming off the bench in Murrayfield against Scotland isn’t ideal as Ireland fans will no doubt be keeping a close eye on furlongs’ recovery updates for the week or so ahead.
CONTINUE READING: Six Nations: Ireland claim third straight maximum but are pushed all the way by Italy
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