Conor O’Shea must rebuild a Roman empire lying in ruin

Had the Six Nations been around in Ancient Rome, Julius Caesar would have been out on his imperial ear. He’d have been ridiculed for letting the place go to wrack and ruin long before the Colosseum collapsed or The Forum went to pot.

Ireland fans savouring the atmosphere before Saturday's Six Nations victory over Italy in Rome.

It comes to something when a faraway team from what was once the western rim of Caesar’s empire, Hibernia Romana, swans in and out, leaving a trail of new wreckage among the old. The extent of the heaviest damage can be gauged in a matter of minutes.

Craig Gilroy’s hat-trick may have been the fastest in the tournament by an Irishman but in Olympic terms it would only just squeeze him onto the podium in the bronze medal position. The substitute Ulsterman needed precisely 14 minutes and three seconds from start to finish.

The pace had been set, in a Six Nations context, by England’s cheekiest of chappies, Austin Healey. His threesome during the inaugural season took 12 minutes, a feat eclipsed two years ago by George North, who made Healey look like a selling-plater by galloping over for his three in ten minutes, five seconds.

The hat-trick of hat-tricks were all inflicted by a tiny squadron of right wings on the same country in the same city: Italy in Rome. No wonder, therefore, that the rumble for a steward’s inquiry grows with every mismatch, most stridently in Georgia where the Lelos reign as Europe’s perennial second division champions.

The organisers have sound reasons to cock a deaf ear to the clamour over promotion and relegation, for now. Everyone wants Italy to succeed, none more so than the Irish now one of our own is trying to steer a ship with a magnetic attraction for icebergs.

After ploughing headlong into an Irish one six days after running into a smaller Welsh equivalent, Conor O’Shea could be forgiven for thinking he had taken delivery of some kind of Six Nations Titanic. Now it’s full steam ahead for Twickenham on Saturday week.

Losing is one thing; losing the way the Italians did to Ireland is something else entirely. Official figures put the Azzurri’s missed tackle count at 37, a number made all the more alarming given that England, Wales, and Ireland barely missed that many between them.

They may have beaten the Springboks (not that big a deal these days) and they may keep talking about a better tomorrow but in the meantime the figures keep piling up, most ominously of all 60 tries and 500 points conceded during the last 12 matches. That works out at an average beating of 41-13.

How much more punishment can a Colossus like Sergio Parisse, take? There has to come a time when even the latter-day Caesar reaches the conclusion that there has to be more to life than banging his head against a brick outhouse.

The dirtiest of clouds left behind by the Irish romp makes the silver lining almost impossible to spot. If there is one, then it can be positively said that the Eternal City will never run out of ruins and that unearthing the latest ones does not require a degree in archaeology.


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