Ireland closed their RBS Six Nations campaign with a 35-25 victory over Scotland in Dublin.
Here’s what we can take from the very physical encounter.
1. Andy Farrell cannot start quickly enough for Ireland.
Ireland conceded two tries to defensive system errors that will leave boss Joe Schmidt furious. The Irish have attacked this tournament without a specialist defence coach as Farrell cannot start until April, when his gardening leave ends following his stint with England. The former dual-code international’s view of the game certainly is well aligned with that of head coach Schmidt. And once he gets down to work Ireland can expect their defence to tighten up markedly once more.
2. Stuart Hogg remains at the vanguard of attacking full-back play.
For all the talk about Simon Zebo’s ability to offload under pressure and set a team alight from the back ahead of this match, it was Glasgow flyer Hogg who again cut loose. Yes he skinned Rory Best and Mike Ross for his impressive try, but then again he identified the mismatch and exploited it without mercy.
3. Donnacha Ryan is a real dangerman for Ireland.
Munster lock Ryan’s injury catalogue and playing second-fiddle to Paul O’Connell at both province and country had limited his chances, especially under Schmidt. But now the gritty lock is excelling, finally up to full speed on Schmidt’s unusual and demanding game-plan. And Ireland are reaping the benefits.
4. Scotland’s twin openside plan didn’t work.
Vern Cotter paired John Barclay and John Hardie as double openside flankers in Scotland’s back row. Ireland feared the ploy would disrupt their breakdown work, but instead Barclay was too loose and paid the price with a sin-binning. CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip’s ball-carrying for Ireland subdued Scotland over the ball, handing the hosts the edge.
5. Jack McGrath has all the hallmarks of a starting British and Irish Lions loosehead.
Leinster’s McGrath has enough of a job on his hands keeping the bullish Cian Healy out of the Ireland team. But the gritty front-rower’s development phase is at an end. The Lions tour New Zealand next summer and McGrath will be a fair bet to start in Test match action if he continues in this kind of form.