People don’t have these tidy little redemption arcs like they do in movies.
Unless of course, you’re Jonny Sexton on a rugby field – because for him redemption only takes twenty minutes and a nerveless drop goal. The memories of the missed 62nd minute penalty fade quickly whilst the image of Sexton disappearing underneath a heap of teammates will live long in the memory of Irish rugby.
What’s important now is that Ireland park the events of Paris and do nothing more than simply chalk it up as an away win. They don’t play away again until Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day in what continues to look like a Championship decider.
There’s something special about the first home game of any Six Nations and always gives the team that extra bit of focus and edge. One of my greatest playing experiences in an Ireland shirt was coming on at Croke Park in the first home game of the 2007 Six Nations. The history of the venue made home games that year just that little bit more special.
Ireland should be moving to the next match exuding an appropriate level of confidence and therefore I’m glad that Joe Schmidt has seen fit to make changes for Italy. At the same time, he’s ensured that the likes of Stockdale get the chance to grow and maybe pick up a try or two against weaker opposition. I’m looking forward to seeing how Jack Conan plays at 8 in his first Six Nations start. He must fancy himself as having a real prospect of displacing Stander from the starting fifteen before next year’s World Cup -and he should be keen to use any chance he’s given to make a statement.
Although he acted as somewhat of a distraction in the build up to the first match last week, it would be wrong not to give specific mention to Rory Best this weekend. The Italy match will bring him level with Paul O’Connell as Ireland’s most capped forward and place him third most capped player of all time -only behind O’Driscoll and O’Gara. It really is a remarkable achievement by a player who could still be adding caps right through to Japan next year.
Against Italy I expect Ireland to use the bench fully and maybe a little earlier than they might normally have done. But in no way expect that to mean anyone taking their foot off the pedal. The guys coming on will want to impress and I really think Italians could be on the wrong end of a pretty big score.
Italian rugby is in a strange place in that the club sides seem to have taken steps forward this year and last, yet the same can’t be said of the national team.
England softened Italy up last weekend anything less than 45-50 point for Ireland will inevitably be viewed by fans with a tinge of disappointment. My predictions for this weekend are Ireland, England and France.
Ireland already look like could be settling nicely into a winning habit which will serve their ambitions well.
Great is the power of habit. It teaches us to bear fatigue and to despise wounds and pain.
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