Ireland’s thumping victory over a 13-man Italy may have left everyone a little cold but Andy Farrell’s job is to make the best of a bad lot as he starts preparing for a Twickenham showdown with England on Saturday week.
For all the positives a nine-try win brings the Irish in the Guinness Six Nations title race, keeping Grand Slam-chasing France within arm’s length, the head coach recognised his team had not been at their best in dealing with the opportunity that presented itself when Italy’s replacement hooker Epalahame Faiva was red-carded on 20 minutes and the rugby-watching world became acquainted with one of the sport’s more intricate laws that forced another Italian forward off and gave Ireland a two-man advantage for an hour of the game.
Italy actually finished the match with only 12 men after referee Nika Amashukeli continued his duty to uphold the letter of the law on his championship debut and sin-binned back-row replacement Braam Steyn with five minutes remaining but the damage had long been done to the visitors’ hopes of preventing their 100th Six Nations defeat and a 35th loss in succession.
Farrell reported a flat Irish dressing room immediately after the game and it is little wonder given an error-strewn performance that lacked fluency and exposed poor decision-making yet with a crunch round-four meeting with Eddie Jones’s England now looming, the head coach insisted there was plenty of take-aways for the coaching staff to digest before a reduced squad of up to 26 players reconvenes for a two-day training camp starting on with an open training session back at Aviva Stadium on Thursday ahead of the second fallow weekend of the tournament.
“We've got a couple of days’ training camp this week,” Farrell said. “The good thing about the game for us is we seem fit enough as far as personnel is concerned, which is great, so we're able to get some fitness and some cohesiveness into us this coming and we roll on to the next game at Twickenham.”
The Ireland boss also dismissed the suggestion that the circumstances of the game had meant few players could have realistically put their hands up for selection next week.
“Well they can,” Farrell countered, “because you look at Josh van der Flier's performance and you look at Ryan Baird's performance and a good few others.
"They managed to perform really well under the circumstances and they were able to adapt and be themselves but, having said that, it is what is.
"We'll judge the game for what it is and we'll judge the personnel for the performance that they put out there.
"We'll look at how we were collectively together, most importantly, and we'll make some decisions at the beginning of the England week.”
Joey Carbery’s performance at fly-half, including three missed conversions out of five, came under particular scrutiny, if only because of the energy and attacking shape brought by a fit-again Johnny Sexton as his second-half replacement, though again Farrell thought that assessment was not reflective of his starting 10’s output.
“I think it's a little unfair on Joey. It's not just down to Joey, he played very well I thought. Craig (Casey, replacement scrum-half) played very well when he came on as well. He sped the game up a little bit.
“It isn't just down to the halves, it's down to the whole of the backline to see where the space is but, having said that, that's why it's so important for Joey to start the game so he could feel the preparation going into the game and handle the situations in the first half, rather than coming on for the last 10 minutes. It's priceless for him.”
When Carbery is next given the opportunity to start remains to be seen but Sexton appears certain to return to the starting line-up for Twickenham and the serious elevation in challenge awaiting Ireland.
Farrell said Ireland will need to be at their best against a team that may be at a developmental stage in its journey to the 2023 World Cup but, according to the former England assistant coach, is still in the image of its Australian boss Jones.
“It is that DNA that Eddie has had at England for the whole time that he's been there, which is that they're very good set-piece wise, they're very good at spoiling your set-piece and they're always tenacious in the carry and their linespeed.
“Obviously (new forwards coach) Richard Cockerill will bring his own piece to the party there. I know (attack coach) Martin Gleeson well, and I know that he'll try and add a little bit of spark here, there and everywhere in the attack.”