A game Jordan Larmour will treasure. Tradition dictates that those making their debuts keep that first, prized jersey and one from the opposite ranks and Larmour suspects his parents already have claims on one or both of those from Saturday.
Add in Six Nations bows for Jack Conan, Andrew Porter and Quinn Roux and there were plenty of men entitled to feel that this was a day of note. For the rest of us, though, this was tantamount to a waste of time. In the wider context, it told us next to nothing.
There is much to admire in Conor O’Shea but it was unfortunate that his bilingual dexterity at the post-match press conference was the most impressive effort by anyone in Italian blue. Sergio Parisse, sitting beside him, stared vacantly at the floor for most of it.
And well he might.
No team has scored more points against Italy in the history of the Six Nations than Ireland and the statistics in the five years since Joe Schmidt took over the national team demonstrate just why this latest thrashing is not to be trusted.
Ireland has scored 61 tries in 22 Six Nations games under the Kiwi coach but 35 of them have come against the Italians in just five meetings. That’s over 57%. It has taken Schmidt’s men 17 games against the other four combatants to record the other 26.
So, against Italy, they score an average of seven tries per game. Against everyone else, the stats plummet to one for every 1.44 games.
If that isn’t stark enough then things become even more clear when the 14 tries claimed against the Scots are subtracted. Do that and Ireland have managed less than one per game against the English, Welsh and French.
Eight tries on the Azzurri? Doesn’t mean a thing.
Schmidt’s Ireland has never scored more than one Six Nations try against England. They have managed one in four meetings with France and one from their last two bites at Wales. It’s a curious conundrum for a side that crossed the line five times against New Zealand in Chicago.
The claustrophobic confines of this event clearly have a lot to do with that and the number of tries scored by the old ‘Five Nations’ sides in games not involving the Italians bears witness with Wales on 27, Ireland 26, Scotland 25 and France on 21. The outlier is England who have crossed 37 times in ties against the other four. It’s a yawning gap given the attritional and internecine nature of the tournament and it suggests that Ireland need to up that quota if ground is to be made up.
Grumbles over Ireland’s attacking style and effectiveness have been regular interlopers into a narrative that has been overwhelmingly positive when it comes to Schmidt’s tenure but the man himself has been loath to give oxygen to such opinions.
It’s only this time last year, after being held tryless in defeat to Wales, that he was having a go at suggestions that Ireland employed too many ‘one-out runners’: remarking how he doesn’t get distracted by people ‘who throw out opinions and don’t back them up’.
Ireland showed encouraging signs on that side of the ball last November but the blank drawn in Paris is far more representative of where they stand than the gorging on such a limp Italian carcass.
If there was anything to take out of Saturday then it may well be the 19 points conceded via three tries in that second-half. Ronan O’Gara, for one, ventured that it would certainly make other attacking coaches sit up and take some notice. The fact is that Ireland conceded just three tries per campaign in the successful 2014 and 2015 Six Nations, but then nine and seven in coming up short this past two years. Now, with just two games played, they’ve already been cut open four times. It’s numbers like that, not those on Saturday’s scoreboard, that need to be kept in mind.
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