The Six Nations table makes for pleasant reading ahead of Ireland’s round-three fixture at home to Wales a fortnight hence, and following the 36-0 win over Italy at the Aviva, Andy Farrell rowed back on his post-match television comments that his team had been clunky and patchy.
Pointing out that a 36-0 scoreline is better if perhaps less eye-catching than a 50-20 type outcome, Farrell said: “I thought we were clinical at times. Our set piece was excellent, top drawer, then scoring some nice tries off the back of all that type of pressure was very pleasing to get over the line. Two from two. It’s a decent start. It gets tougher from here on in.”
Regarding his immediate reaction on television, Farrell admitted: “I’m probably harsh enough there but that’s how I want to be. I think sometimes that when you get your nose in front and then you make a few changes the balance of the team is a little bit different.
“Sometimes you get a little bit too desperate instead of just boxing away with the stuff that we were doing and doing so well,” said Farrell, citing forward passes and inaccuracy in ball presentation at the breakdown.
The only apparent injury concern was Hugo Keenan, admittedly one of the more irreplaceable players given there has been no obvious alternative for years at fullback. With his eight carries for 82 metres, eight defenders beaten and two clean line breaks, Keenan was the catalyst for some of Ireland’s best rugby before departing with “a bang on his knee” said Farrell.
“He seems in good spirits but you saw him and he was limping so we’ll see how he turns up tomorrow morning whether he needs someone to have a look at that or not. I don’t know at this stage.”
The Irish coach was optimistic that Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose will all be fit to train when the squad come together for a couple of days later in the week. This will certainly make selection in midfield tricky given how Stuart McCloskey and Robbie Henshaw played.
Henshaw, revelling in a run of injury-free games, backed up his fine performance in Marseille, and Farrell enthused: “He’s found his mojo, hasn’t he? He’s back. He’s on fire at the minute, playing really well.
“You could see that on the first day back, the first day training. His confidence is right up, he’s his old self and he’s bouncing around the place.
“We spoke during the week about his combination with Stu. The last time they played together in Biarritz against Samoa wasn’t what it should have been. They both worked really hard to make the team feel right and Robbie was at the heart of that.”
Ireland restricted an opposing team to zero points in the championship for the first time since beating England 17-0 in 1987. Another landmark was Jack Crowley scoring his first Test try, when bouncing to his feet after linking with Calvin Nash to take Craig Casey’s try-scoring pass. This kick-started another assertive and assured display, showcasing his ability to take the ball to the line square on and use his footwork and offloading.
“That was an unbelievable try, to offload the ball from the floor – quick ball from Craig [Casey], nice feel coming around the corner and Jack to get a touch just after he’d presented the ball was a special try for him.
“I thought he started the game really well, I thought he played really well at 10. When he played at 15, he crept a bit wider and a few errors crept in but we’ll work on that as well.”
Captaining Ireland for the first time, Caelan Doris admitted he was more nervous before the match than is usually the case. “I got to a point where I’m usually fairly calm on game day and looking forward to it but more nerves today for sure.”
Doris added: “Knowing the group we have makes it all the more special. We’re a very tight-knit group, this group has largely been together for the guts of four years plus now.
“The relationships we have are special, and the environment that Faz [Farrell] and Gary [Keegan] and all the coaches have set about being ourselves and being vulnerable makes my job easier and made it easier this week.
“I leaned heavily on the other lads as well and from a personal point of view, I hope all the people who have been involved from Ballina, the whole way to Blackrock, take a little bit of pride from this and from seeing me captain the country today.”
For the newly installed Gonzalo Quesada this second outing was quite a reality check as Ireland beat them for the 15th time in a row.
“They didn’t need to do anything special. They just went through their system, their attack. They were always on the front foot. When they got to 19 points difference, they were like the All Blacks from a few years ago – 100 per cent lineout, 100 per cent scrum, 100 per cent high balls. Rucking with extreme efficiency. They put so much pressure in the ruck zone, they slow down every ball.”
One of the day’s highlights was eight-year-old Stevie Mulrooney, of RTÉ’s Toy Show fame, singing Ireland’s Call.
“I was just watching him the whole time,” admitted an enthralled Farrell. “I didn’t know whether he was standing with his mother or not but when I realised the other lady was not his mother and was singing the national anthem for the Italians, his confidence was amazing, and I actually thought I wish our lads are going to be like that.
“He’s got his shoulders back, he was ready. He was waving to the crowd, stood there on his own. I thought: ‘this kid’s got it all’. He was amazing. He nailed it, didn’t he? It was a great start.”