Cooke's Six Nations Corner

Feb 28, 2023 09:00 By Michael Cooke
Cooke's Six Nations Corner
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Three from three for Ireland but Italian game offered questions Ireland didnt really answers

Mixed emotions emanated from the Irish rugby camp on Saturday after a third six nations campaign win over Italy.

The performance was far from convincing but the result was highly satisfying.

Ireland have achieved maximum points during the six nations to date and the prospect of a grand slam remains possible. Such form becomes even more commendable when you factor in a high degree of absenteeism.


Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Jamison Gibson Park, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose are all nursing injuries at present. The aforementioned would all be starting if fully fit.

Additionally, Finlay Bealham joined them in the treatment room before half-time against Italy while both Peter O’Mahony and Dan Sheehan played only 24 minutes each. Ireland still got the win but not without hitting a few stumbling blocks along the way.

When Sheehan and O’Mahony entered the fray, Italy reduced the lead to four points having capitalised on an unforced error. Andrew Porter needlessly fouled Juan Ignacio Brex and Paolo Garbisi converted the resultant penalty.


Prior to that, Ireland spent roughly five minutes inside the Italian 22-metre-line and failed to score. Farrell’s men went through numerous phases before conceding a line-out and a subsequent penalty.

Irish Response

The heads could easily have dropped, especially given the absence of talismanic players but Ireland steadied the ship. Ross Byrne started the resurgence by slotting over a 35-metre penalty, 15 minutes from time. Mack Hansen’s late try put Ireland out of sight.


Byrne was starting a Six Nations game for the very first time and acquitted himself quite well overall. The same can be said for Craig Casey while both Ryan Baird and Tom O’Toole made a positive impact when introduced off the bench.

Looking at the overall picture; Ireland’s defensive performance was below the required standard. 24 tackles were missed, highly concerning even allowing for Italy’s recent attacking improvements. It’s not the first time rear-guard deficiencies were exposed either.

Damien Penaud’s try in the French game is further testimony to Ireland’s struggles when defending broken play. You can be certain Italian head coach Kieran Crowley had this earmarked and it yielded results.


Ireland’s defensive frailties are partially attributable to the absence of first-choice centres, namely Henshaw and Ringrose. Notwithstanding such major losses, Ireland got the job done last Saturday but may suffer the opposite fate at the hands of more technically refined sides.

Recent form offers enough cause for optimism however where Farrell’s men have become responded well when questioned. Take the summer tour of New Zealand for instance.

A 23-point defeat at the hands of the Kiwis in the opening test could’ve proved a springboard for disaster. Instead Ireland won the two subsequent tests in flamboyant fashion and became the first visiting team to win a series against the All Blacks since 1994.


While a clean sweep of victories followed at the Autumn Internationals, the performances were quite underwhelming. The sceptics opined that opposing teams were beginning to figure out Ireland’s game-plan; a view which has since been debunked during the six nations.

Despite defensive weaknesses and extensive absenteeism, Ireland have amassed maximum points from three games to date. This includes a bonus-point victory over reigning champions France.

Farrell Spotlight

What’s also encouraging is the presence of a head coach who sees adversity as a stimulant for resilience. Farrell made that clear in a recent press conference by highlighting the famous “bus-gate” incident that occurred during Joe Schmidt’s tenure in 2017.

Ireland’s Six Nations campaign got off to horrendous start that year losing 27-22 to Scotland at Murrayfield. When questioned about Ireland’s poor performance, Schmidt alluded to a pre-match inconvenience where the team bus got delayed en-route to the stadium.

Farrell took a different outlook on the matter entirely. He would’ve wanted the team bus delayed further to see how his side would respond.

The Irish head coach has certainly got his wish given recent unanticipated setbacks. On current evidence, the Irish rugby bus trip remains on track and is heading in the right direction.

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