‘Scotland will be a step up but I just want to enjoy today’

Captain Johnny Sexton and head coach Andy Farrell react to Ireland’s win in Rome

Ireland did all that was asked of them at Stadio Olimpico. Head coach Andy Farrell capped two hugely promising players in Craig Casey and Ryan Baird, bringing the total to 13 new players exposed to international rugby since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

And there was offloading. Although Italy won this mini-contest seven to five, there was enough passing in and around contact to suggest that this Irish team can be repeat the skill in a competitive test match.

This was not that, as the 48-10 final score reflects. The Italians are consistently failing to reach basic standards in the Six Nations. Consistent ineptitude brings their Championship losing streak to 30. In three rounds this season they have scored four tries yet conceded 139 points, including 19 tries.

Nobody believes the platitudes anymore. Six Irish tries - two by the outstanding Will Connors - and conceding only one puts Ireland in the same category as France and England when it comes to dispensing with this opponent, but Farrell was still asked how beneficial this performance would prove against Scotland on March 14th and England’s visit to Dublin six days later?

“I don’t know if you are trying to be disrespectful or not?”

The facts on Italy are repeated.

“We know if we don’t get our own intensity right, we don’t earn the right to score the tries we have,” Farrell replied. “That’s what we did, first and foremost, and we approached the game in the right manner and we earned the right to score the tries. Does that prepare us well for Murrayfield? Look, we take a break now, we have a week off, then we dust ourselves down and prepare as best we can for Murrayfield.

“We had two weeks off coming into this game and the questions being asked during the week was if we were on a hiding to nothing. Well, not to us because we judge our own performance. Our performance and attitude were good today.”

Johnny Sexton even took the opportunity to commend the work being done by Italy's head coach Franco Smith.

“Italy are a really well coached team,” said the Ireland captain. “They stretched us at times. Any team I have played against under Franco Smith have tested us - whether it was Treviso or Italy. He seems to be an outstanding coach that gets his team playing and challenging the opposition and I am sure they will learn a lot from today.”

Worrying injuries to Jordan Larmour (hip flexor) and the starting frontrow - Tadhg Furlong (ankle), Ronán Kelleher (dead calf) and Dave Kilcoyne failed a head injury assessment - will be assessed on Sunday morning. The squad fly back into Dublin tonight.

“I think Scotland will be a step up but to be honest I just want to enjoy today,” said Sexton after a frustrating few weeks, on and off the field, in the second season of his captaincy. “The boys have worked incredibly hard and we’ve been incredibly frustrated that we didn’t get the results for the work we put in that we felt we deserved.”

The wonder is whether the manner of this victory was born out of frustration or patience with where Ireland are heading?

“A little bit of both,” said Sexton. “If you think about the Wales game, we played with 14 men. We think we would have played like that [IN CARDIFF]. We were a bit frustrated after the French game as the things we talked about during the week we did not deliver.

“The things we were told during the week we didn’t deliver on. We will probably look back and regret that we didn’t play to our potential and we didn’t execute the game plan as best we could.

“Each game has been different. I suppose today was an accumulation of both weeks coming together, but it doesn’t mean everything is fixed now. We got to keep improving.

“Obviously massive tests ahead. Going to Murrayfield, it is always an incredibly tough game and then a six day turnaround to play England.

“It is still all to do. If we get a couple of results in our last games it will be an ‘OK’ championship. It will be one that ‘might have been,’ but we want to finish on a high, that’s what we said after the French game.”