If this is to be O’Driscoll’s swansong, we simply must win
Italians to pose a major test for Kidney’s men
In days gone by, Irish rugby men would utter, with statesmanlike wisdom and just a little superiority, “it will be good for the game when Italy become competitive”. As they say, don’t wish too hard for what you want . . . .
If the England team bus drives up the M5 from Cardiff with a Grand Slam inside, they should send Sergio Parisse a dozen bottles of Champagne because it was the amazing Italian performance in the first round of the championship against France that put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons and opened the door to an English championship win.
Italy have improved. More accurately the Italian outhalf, Luciano Qrquera, has improved. Since the retirement of Diego Dominguez the Italian team has lacked a game manager. Despite having a powerful pack, Italy have been boring and unimaginative.
That should not come as a surprise. Rugby requires a good decision-maker at No 10 to organise the “go forward”. If you don’t have a good No 10, you don’t have a good “go forward”.
Qrquera has hung about the fringes of the Italian team for several seasons and he was unimpressive. In this championship, his performance against France was excellent. He has not been as dominant since then. He has provided a steady, if not brilliant, game management.
Qrquera needs to dominate like he did against France, or we will have no option but to conclude that the French performance was a one-off.
If Qrquera has more substance than the immediate evidence suggests, Ireland could be in for a very difficult day. This week Ireland are stretched in way I have rarely seen since 1999.
The injury list is long and the confidence is low. Italy are growing in confidence and ambition. They are targeting this match, as they sense vulnerability in a wounded and bleeding Ireland.
Rome is the favourite Six Nations away venue for Irish supporters. Regrettably the weather forecasts are varied. If it rains, the weather may not be the only thing that ruins Paddy’s Day weekend in Rome.
Ireland have a fantastic record against Italy because they have always played Italy at a high pace. Rain will nullify much of this ability.
Against England, Ireland attempted to play dry- weather rugby on a rainy Dublin day and lost. It was dumb tactics. France was not pretty, but the wet-weather kicking game was much smarter.
To win, away from home, against a team that plays negative tactics, like Italy, is not easy.
Ireland must play the old school “P” law.
Get position. Keep Italy away from the Irish goalposts and play in the Italians’ half. Do not let the Italian confidence grow in three-point increments.