Ireland 29 Italy 10 - the winners and losers
This was shaping into the easiest analysis piece to write: Joey Carbery rips open the debate about pillars of this Ireland team. Carbery is too slick, so natural a ball player, too gifted for Johnny Sexton or Rob Kearney to continue in the starting XV, right?
Roll on the healthiest debate imaginable over the coming weeks. The Carbery drums would beat at every opportunity and in response new levels of magnificence would come from Sexton and Kearney as the veterans hold tight to their jerseys.
Instead, we have the sorry sight of Carbery being unable to put weight on his left ankle. The lack of a fracture is no news at all as 48 hours is required to establish how badly his ligaments have been damaged.
"The good news with Joey is there is no fracture - it's a bit puffy on the inside of his left ankle," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt after initial x-ray results. "He has a bit of swelling, so we will give that 24, 48 hours to let that go down and get it scanned again. If we don't think it's too bad he'll rehab in Portugal ahead of the England game. If not England, hopefully Wales.
“It’s too soon to say (for sure), but I don’t think it’ll keep him out of the World Cup.”
Carbery suffered a similar injury after a stunning performance against Scotland during the Six Nations. It changed the narrative then as it does now. The 23-year-old doesn't have a few months to recover, he has three weeks, maybe less.
It means Ireland cannot join the rare ranks of nations that boast two play-makers in their backline. The All Blacks are struggling with a similar fate since Damian McKenzie pulled up lame.
We are left with the memory of Carbery being carted off the field - upset etched all over his face - on day one of a World Cup campaign that suddenly promises a little less than before.
“I was really happy with Joey’s performance,” said Schmidt. “I thought he ran the game really well . . . He is still building his game but unfortunately he has had a few injuries this year that didn’t allow that really continuity that he is looking for at 10.”
Schmidt stated that Johnny Sexton is fit to play against England at Twickenham in two weeks.
“We’ll forge ahead with the plan we have mapped out. We don’t get back together until Wednesday so it gives us a bit more time to have clarity about Joey, so we may adjust our plans.
“We know we have to hit the ground running against Scotland so we know we can’t afford to have anyone underdone for that game.”
Carbery's master class in kick passing and putting wingers into space - Andrew Conway finished as man of the match while Dave Kearney recovered from failing to score an early try (created by Carbery's fly hack) - was supposed to be the story.
Others worth worrying about are Rob Herring (back), Dev Toner (rolled ankle) and Jack McGrath but for varying reasons.
McGrath only played 40 minutes after a season that saw the Ulster bound loosehead prop slide down the Irish pecking order behind Munster's Dave Kilcoyne. Interestingly, Schmidt turned to Andrew Porter - a converted tighthead - to play in his former slot.
“It was tactical definitely,” said Schmidt. “We were really happy with Jack’s first half but we wanted to give Andrew Porter 20 minutes at loosehead because during the World Cup we are going to need at least one, maybe two, props that can cover both sides.”
Schmidt is expected to take five props to Japan next month. It currently looks like McGrath is number six behind Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Porter, John Ryan and Kilcoyne.
That’s enough depressing news.
Tadhg Beirne took 20 seconds to prove his value. Overlooked during the Six Nations when his brilliant first campaign for Munster was temporarily interrupted by a knee injury, the lock/blindside killed Italian possession with his very first ruck entry.
How Ireland could consider travelling without Beirne is beyond most observers.
Another who saw his stock rise was Conway, performing like he always has these past two years - be it in Munster red or Ireland green - with some outstanding high fielding. He would be certain to make the cut if the squad numbered 32 rather than 31.
Niall Scannell can sleep easy tonight. The Munster hooker arrived earlier than expected when Herring was injured. He looked strong and is shaping into a player who could be a starter when a World Cup quarter-final rolls around. Ireland captain Rory Best turns 37 next Thursday. History tells us that comes with a cost.
“Rob Herring had a bit of a back spasm, a bit of a back strain. It isn’t anything too major, not of massive concern to medical team,” Schmidt added.
Elsewhere, Chris Farrell at inside centre has the potential to become a permanent move. Farrell displayed the power but more importantly deft handling when creating Carbery's try. He gives Ireland an extra weapon in midfield that could send Robbie Henshaw to fullback - the position people would be trying to slot Carbery until the injury.
Until the best laid plans were altered.
“Chris took a step towards [playing 12 and 13]. The other centres can do that. We want to make sure the three or four centres - depending how we balance that up - can play there or on the wing. I know it’s a long time but Garry played some time on the wing for Blackrock. It’s about keeping our options open so the best 31 leave these shores on September 11th.”
Schmidt was also happy with Jean Kleyn’s debut, noting the four penalty scrums that came from “the really good power he put through them.”