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.
Once in Italian territory, hold possession. Keep the ball. Let Italy give away the penalties. Sap their energy, silence the crowd and Italian belief with Irish points.
Be patient. To lose patience is to lose the battle. On wet days if you have position, gain possession and are patient, the points will follow.
If the sun shines, Ireland are a much better bet. The impact of Jonny Sexton’s withdrawal cannot be overstated. Sexton is the best on-field general in Europe.
Yet again Paddy Jackson has been tossed in the deep end. I have been hugely impressed with Paddy’s resilience. A Heineken Cup Final and the Six Nations are not the environment to learn your trade. Talent needs management, wisdom and guidance to mature. There seems precious little support for this young, highly talented outhalf.
Despite this, as we say in Australia, the kid has played strong and done good. Paddy can hold his head high.
A loss would be terminal for the staff and catastrophic for team morale. Sadly, there appears little doubt that Brian O’Driscoll will not play for Ireland again.
It is also unthinkable that the greatest player Ireland has ever seen will wear his beloved green jersey for the last time in a losing performance.
It is a shame Brian will not play one more game on home soil, so all of Ireland can be given the chance to say, thank you. He has done more for Irish rugby than any other individual. His loyalty and service have been extraordinary. The loss to Irish rugby will be immeasurable.
Yet I do not blame him for stopping. He has carried all of us for a long. At times, I know this responsibility has been a heavy burden. Yet, being who he is, not only did he carry us, he inspired us to believe we could all be better. Because of Brian, we believed to be Irish, was to be a winner.
He is not only the greatest player I have seen or coached, he is a gentleman, a wonderful man and, more important than anything to do with rugby, to me, he is a treasured friend. Happiness is all I hope for him.
I have said it before, but it is worth saying again. We will never see the likes of Brian again. If this is his last game in green, then Ireland simply must win.