Ireland have beaten Italy in their opening Six Nations fixture against Italy in Rome. It wasn't a classic game, but Ireland's possesssion and territory eventually told in the end. The scoreline of 26-3 flatters Ireland a bit, but they fully deserved a win. It's a credit to Schmidt's coaching that they were never in doubt, and managed to eke out a points difference of 23 when they didn't play well.
Ireland had a few good performers, but there will be a lot of improvement needed for next week's game against France.
Ireland's Player Ratings v Italy:
15. Rob Kearney 6
He had a few chances to counter attack, but outside of that Ireland rarely brought him into the game. Often ran sideways instead of forwards, but needs to get more into the game.
14. Tommy Bowe 6
He's a class act, but Ireland's team selection and gameplan worked against him. He ran all day, but he only got the ball eight times, making 20 metres on five carries.
13. Jared Payne 7
His selection alongside Henshaw signalled that Schmidt wanted to play a direct game, as what turned out in the first half. He looked much better in the second half, and thrived in open spaces. He remains a better fullback, and if Schmidt changes his mind on this centre partnership, he will be the ultimate loser.
12. Robbie Henshaw 7
Like Payne, Henshaw isn't being utilised fully in the national set-up. He got his lines mixed up a little in the first half, as he was solely used as a battering ram. Was much improved in the second half when he got more space in wider channels and just demonstrated that outside centre is his better position.
11. Simon Zebo 7
Was busy in the first half, as he attempted to be the winger that Schmidt wants him to be. His rucking clear outs need to be more powerful, but he was the spark in the second half coming off his wing for more work that ignited the Irish attack and helped Henshaw and Payne to improve. He's under a lot of pressure for his place with Fitzgerald, Trimble, McFadden, Kearney and Earls behind him, but he should earn some breathing room after this performance.
10. Ian Keatley 6
After a very shaky start, Keatley settled and did very well. His kicking out of hand was mixed, but he found space well whenever the Irish attack broke down. His placekicking was exemplary, as he proved George Hook wrong. He won't be starting next week, but he's given Schmidt another option by showing he can play at international level.
9. Conor Murray 8
The official man of the match, and not just because of his try. He grew into the game, and guided his Munster teammate Keatley through the game. His well timed snipe for the first try took the tension out of the game, as Ireland would never lose from that far ahead.
1. Jack McGrath 6
McGrath was a willing ball carrier in the loose, and seemed to get away with a few things in the scrum. He's had better days at scrumtime, but against a much heralded Italian scrum, he did ok.
2. Rory Best 6
Rory Best is usually one of Ireland's most influential players, which is why it's strange that he wasn't more prominent. Only lasted 46 minutes before he came off. He made four tackles, missing two, while only made one metre in four carries.
3. Mike Ross 6
Ross got the rub of the green from referee Jerome Garces in his battle against Italian loosehead Matias Aguero. Both props looked to be struggling in the battle for supremacy, and when Aguero was targetted by referees for not pushing straight Ross appeared to have the upper edge. He'll remain as Schmidt's first choice for the next few games at least.
4. Devin Toner 8
Toner was Ireland's outstanding forward, which he needed to be with Iain Henderson breathing down his neck. Toner stole two Italian lineouts, as himself and O'Connell helped themselves from touch. He was at the centre of several maul turnovers, whilst putting in a good shift around the park.
5. Paul O'Connell 7
O'Connell took a while to shed his poor Munster form from late January, but eventually got into the game. Dominating the lineout helped his confidence, and he was another willing carrier.
6. Peter O'Mahony 6
O'Mahony wasn't as prominent at breakdown time due to the presence of two openside flankers in the Irish side, and was tasked with ball carrying more. 15 carries highlights the impact that O'Mahony had and he remains a leader for Ireland.
7. Tommy O'Donnell 7
Into the team under difficult circumstances after O'Brien's injury, O'Donnell was the pick of the Irish back row. He's given Schmidt a welcome selection headache and could have eased Murphy out of the way for the openside flanker spot for France once O'Brien is officially ruled out. 12 tackles topped the Irish tackle count.
8. Jordi Murphy 6
It didn't seem like Heaslip was missed as Murphy put in a good shift. He's had better games in the last month, but 17 carries and nine tackles showcased his workload. Showed he can deputise for Heaslip if needed. There is no wrong option for Schmidt if the choice is between Murphy and O'Donnell at openside flanker going forward.
16. Sean Cronin 6
Not his usual self in the loose, but a handy performance nonetheless. Five tackles in 35 minutes represents a good shift, and never faulted in the lineout.
18. Marty Moore 5
Struggled in the scrum compared to Ross, which probably vindicates Schmidt's selections.
19. Iain Henderson 7
Brought an immediate impact in the loose which lead directly to O'Donnell's try. Is breathing down Toner's neck.
22. Ian Madigan 6
Madigan tried a few tricks, but the game was done by the time he came on and wasn't asked to do much.
James Cronin, Isaac Boss and Felix Jones not on long enough to be rated. Robbie Diack didn't get on.