Well that did the nerves good after last week. A first ever Six Nations Four-Try bonus point by the 35th minute and a second half of relaxation, an emptied bench, line breaks and fancy offloads. We don't get many second halves as easy as that in Six Nations rugby. The response to losing in Edinburgh was our record win in the competition. You can't ask for a better response, but what will we have learned from it with regards to the rest of the Championship?
Did Last Week Affect Ireland's Confidence?:
Look, Italy were terrible. It might be their worst Six Nations performance and there's some serious work for Conor O'Shea to do there for a team that looks to be going backwards. Their scrum and lineout were decimated, their attack was stagnant and desperate, the defence was an open door, and the clearances were loose at best. Ireland were handed the game on a plate, and the timing was perfect to regain some mojo after the kick in the guts of last week.
Ireland came out on a mission. When Zebo caught Murray's box kick in the first minute, you immediately felt Ireland were serious. They owned the ball for the next twelve minutes, destroying Italy's scrum, and keeping the pressure up until Keith Earls finally got over for the first try.
From there, Ireland kicked on. There were offloads and sidesteps, they ran the ball from their own 22 and looked like a rugby team that believed in themselves.
The lineout, which was looked a shambles last week, was a confident unit, consistently disrupting the shaky Italian throw.
Conclusion: For a team that lost their captain before kick off, coming off a shock defeat, and starting a debutante at hooker, you would think a shaky start would have them second guessing themselves. But Ireland went for the jugular immediately, confident enough in themselves that Scotland was an aberration. The team that beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa last year had enough self belief in store to overcome what happened in Murrayfield. We remember poor starts in the past not going like this. The 2007 World Cup and the 2013 Six Nations, for example - the feeling during those tournaments was that "something was wrong". That's clearly not the case in this camp. It may remain unclear if the problems exposed last week were a one-off, but at least we know there won't be a lack of confidence heading into the French game in two weeks.
Andy Farrell's system has come under fire in the last seven days - which also led to him throwing down the gauntlet to the players - and things did look better for Ireland today. That said, the ineptness of the Italian attack makes it very hard to judge if the defence is in better shape as we look to tougher tests over the next month.
The one try we conceded came from a penalty try, after Donnacha Ryan took down the lineout maul. It was the second successive penalty conceded by Ireland in the same situation and we looked unusually inept in the circumstance.
Other than that though, Italy really created no real threat. The times they did get in the Irish 22, Ireland handled it well. Jackson turned the ball over in contact after scrum half Edoardo Gori took a quick penalty in the second half.
Twice in the second half, Italy spread it wide with an overlap on the wing, but both times Keith Earls showed real line speed to break up the move. That said, the same outside threat we faced in Murrayfield was evident and who knows if Earls getting up to meet the receiver would work as well against more skillful finishers such as Stuart Hogg.
Conclusion: A much improved performance. The Irish defence did pretty much all they could do, but it's hard to give too much credit against such poor opposition. Until we see evidence against a team at a higher level, there will still be doubt about the solidity of Farrell's system.
Again, all conclusions are heavily waited by how poor the opposition were.
Even so, it was a very encouraging day for Joe Schmidt going forward. Niall Scannell didn't put a foot wrong stepping in for the captain in a position with our least experience depth given Sean Cronin's injury.
Craig Gilroy didn't make the bench last week, yet this week gets a hat-trick, despite not appearing until the 47th minute . His arrival was the perfect move for the type of game it had become, but he showed great poise and pace for his tries, especially his first.
He's unlikely to budge Zebo and Earls from the starting lineup given the Munster duo's current form, but he's guaranteed his place in the matchday squad.
And then, does Paddy Jackson give Schmidt any headaches once Johnny Sexton returns? Before today, you wouldn't have thought so, but Jackson was outstanding today in defence, attack and with from the boot, kicking nine of out of nine.
Conclusion: You'd have to think that Sexton and Rory Best have too much credit in the bank to be in any trouble, and Zebo, Earls and Kearney are playing too well to be dropped. But a seed will have been sewn and these performances might be important down the line.
Where are the rest of the Six Nations?
Wales struggled in Rome last week. They were losing at half time and didn't get a bonus point. After seeing Italy today, that's unthinkable. At the time of writing, England and Wales are battling it out in Cardiff - neither team have a clear advantage. Conor O'Shea immediately said that Ireland were a way better team than Wales.
Conor O'Shea - Patriot https://t.co/2vcGYPm5l5
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) February 11, 2017
England struggled to beat France at Twickenham last week. So given all that, are Ireland in as much trouble as we thought they were? They've secured six points from the first two games and are far from out of the competition.
Conclusion: It might be unfair to compare Wales's performance in Rome to Ireland's given the latter's desperation, but England's early performances don't suggest there's an automatic grandslam afoot. Joe and the team still have plenty to play for.
The Balls.ie Jonah Lomu Rugby 6 Nations Challenge Is Infallible:
The Game Gods have predicted both games correctly so far. We'll make sure we have our best gamer taking on the task ahead of the French game.