It is not unusual for Ireland to produce as many offloads as tries in a test match. The fact that Ireland produced nine of both against Italy certainly in yesterday's 58-15 shellacking of Italy certainly bucked the trend, however.
So poor were Italy, most writers admit that it is extremely difficult to read anything into the contest, with many asking whether Ireland's return to running rugby and their re-acquaintance with the art of the offload is a harbinger of things to come.
Shane Horgan writes in The Sunday Times that he felt that, as good as elements of the Irish performance were, it could have been better:
There weren’t many glaring errors but there wasn’t as much magic as we might have liked to see.
That might sound harsh about a nine-try performance but we won’t see the real value of yesterday until the Scotland game on Saturday. Was it a one-off performance or the start of something different?
Horgan drew attention to Joe Schmidt's post-game comments regarding the amount of space afforded to Ireland by the Italian defence and wonders whether the performance against Scotland will be similarly easy on the eye:
What interests me now is whether the performance indicates a change of direction in terms of playing more of an off-loading game. Joe Schmidt said that they were afforded a lot more space and that allowed them to play the offload game and I think that’s true. There was a change in the mind-set but was that a change just for the Italy game or is it a general mindset change which means we can move our game on?
Brendan Fanning in the Sunday Independent also drew attention to the Irish style of play, approaching the subject, like Horgan, with cautious optimism, wondering whether the Irish aversion to offloading in the first half was merely a tactic to ensure they win the game:
The interesting bit was the circumstances in which Ireland opened up. We counted at least four opportunities in the opening 40 minutes to that point where the men in green might have offloaded, but chose to play safe.
Their stat of nine - massive for Ireland - was run up later in the day. Rather they might have been following the standard line when playing Italy, that you have to go toe to toe with them for an age before challenging them to a foot race with ball in hand.
Writing in the same paper, Conor O'Shea says that, despite the comfortable victory, Ireland are well off the the level set by England and Wales:
Having watched the Engand-Wales game that followed, it is clear there is another level we are aiming for, and we are a long way off that at the moment. What this Championship has allowed us to is to learn without a number of leading players. Once we get those players back, and with the experiences garnered, we will be in a better place.
Horgan's Sunday Times colleague Peter O'Reilly put Ireland's style of play down to the feeble Italians:
Ireland almost hit double-figures for offloads, too — nine in total. By Schmidt’s standards, this amounts to reckless risk-taking. But yesterday the rules were different, partly because of Italy’s impoverished, injury-ravaged state, partly because Ireland were blessed with early points and the momentum that this brought.
Tom Cary in the Telegraph credited Ireland with a fine performance, but called into question Italy's continued presence in the Six Nations following such a limp performance:
Credit to Ireland who entered this match under a fair bit of pressure, without a win so far this year, and ended it with a record nine tries. But this was a game which, more than anything else, raised further questions about Italy's protected Six Nations status and the merits or otherwise of a second tier with promotion and relegation.
Certainly, had you been a Georgian rugby enthusiast watching this demolition you might have felt moved to question the closed shop that is Six Nations rugby.