Andy Farrell lauded the impact of his bench for providing a late spark at Twickenham but remained guarded about the chances of those replacements being promoted to the starting line-up next time out.
Sunday’s 24-12 loss to England may have ended Ireland’s Triple Crown shot and Grand Slam ambitions as well as bringing Eddie Jones’s side back into the title mix but the home team’s failure to grab a four-try bonus point and the visitors’ late try through Andrew Porter could be telling factors in the destination of the Guinness Six Nations trophy.
Credit for that lies in part with the Irishmen who re-energised their team, which had been overrun before half-time, trailing 17-0 at the break.
There were impressive turns from a number of replacements, notably back-rower Caelan Doris, scrum-half John Cooney and fly-half Ross Byrne, whose introduction at 10 saw captain Johnny Sexton see out the final 15 minutes at inside centre.
Head coach Farrell namechecked each of them for their impacts and with Porter also impressing and Keith Earls also finishing strongly, there is plenty of scope for the boss to make changes in personnel.
While the championship is rarely conducive to radical team overhauls, the prospect of Italy, without a Six Nations win in 25 games dating back to 2015, visiting Dublin on March 7 is one of those moments of opportunity.
There were bad performances across the board in that Ireland side at the weekend and not too much comfort to be had from some of the second-half efforts that may have papered over the first-half cracks in terms of individual’s statistics.
Certainly, England’s second-half display suggested some of those wearing the red rose had clocked off for a bit.
That may well play into Farrell’s decision-making and post-match he seemed to suggest that was the case.
We played with a little bit more width in the last 20 minutes when the game was over really.
“And we got on the front foot and it is quite easy to win collisions on the back of that, but having said that you still have to do it and I thought Caelan did well when he came on, he hit the line really nicely at times and Ross did pretty well, John did pretty well etc, but I suppose they would sense an opportunity on the back of things not going pretty well for us as a team.”
The considered opinion is that bedding in less-experienced players is best served by integrating them into a team packed with experience around them.
Yet Warren Gatland made 10 changes to his Wales starting line-up for last year’s trip to Rome and though the shadow side was met with some stubborn resistance they flew back to Cardiff with a 26-10 victory en route to a Grand Slam.
Re-introducing Earls to the Ireland back three is a no-risk play, particularly given the poor form of left wing Jacob Stockdale. More difficult decisions lie ahead with Doris and Cooney.
Both deserve a run but dropping Conor Murray from the number nine jersey and at the very least moving CJ Stander from the base of the scrum to the blindside takes a combined 122 caps out of a crucial axis.
Those are the dilemmas that coaches must wrangle with but again, a home game against Italy may make the selection viable.
Farrell does have some leeway for change and the short camp at the end of the week will help to inform the Ireland coaching ticket but for now, the boss is keeping his cards close.
We won’t assess it rashly, we’ll make sure we will do the right thing by the team and do what we have to do to get the right performance against Italy.