Irish attack just too predictable
Brian O'Driscoll was pretty up front about the performance in his post-match comments after Ireland's great escape at the Stadio Flaminio.
Ireland clearly lacked precision in their execution from a number of purposeful and meaningful attacks but in the end flattered to deceive and gave the Azzurri enough lifelines that better sides would have capitalised on with interest.
In saying that, it would be remiss of me not to give special mention to the special effort made by the home side. Sergio Parisse, the Italian captain, epitomised their approach and in Nick Mallett they have a quality coach who certainly got the most from his players on a day that they probably deserved a little more from.
Their set-piece and defence out-muscled and outmanoeuvred Ireland for the most part, but in the end they lacked a consistent ability to retain the ball in attack, despite scoring the try of the game.
The scoreline highlighted the difference in experience under pressure to pull off what would have been a famous victory. However, the picture could not have been more contrasting. Within a matter of seconds, the Italians' failure to gather a restart, an area where they had excelled all afternoon, to Ronan O'Gara's composure and inner belief under pressure, marked the difference between the sides.
However, the game should never have really come close to the end drama that unfolded, but to be honest it is not that surprising that Ireland yet again struggled with the ball in hand.
All the same excuses cannot be used time after time.
The players have to take personal responsibility for this one, as the question remains -- how do the same players look so comfortable on the ball, especially those in a blue jersey, and not translate it to the international stage with any consistency?
Is the vision that they are empowered with by the coach less clear? Only the players really know, no matter how much of the flak they are willing to take.
The excuse that it's a bigger step up to the international stage or that they have less time together as a squad can only apply up to a point.
For the fans it seems like it's one step forward, two steps back at the moment.
With games dwindling before the big stage later in the year, the pressure is sure to pile on, unless Ireland start to really demonstrate that there is a clear plan behind what they're doing.
Despite the physicality of the Italian defence, Ireland, who tried to play it as open as possible, ended up simply running slam into the Italians on too many occasions.
The resulting breakdowns, of which there were far too many, not only slows down possession but also enables the defence to reset their line more often than not.
Ireland invariably ended up with less attackers on each phase, with more defenders on their feet.
On many occasions the likes of David Wallace, too often Ireland's go-to man off shortened lineouts, simply crashed it up the middle in one line of attack.
One of the keys to adding any continuity to an attack is to have it set in two lines of formation, creating more distress for defences with trail runners positioned in behind.
As a result, any defence would find it more difficult to line up the ball carriers as more attacking options become available.
In tandem with a policy of evading any sort of full head-on contact at any cost, an increase in half breaks results in more players flooding the gaps if there is a second line.
Ireland want to get to a stage where they are maintaining the ball for any number of phases, but most of those phases are being undertaken with defences more or less intact.
Think about it -- how often do the All Blacks or the French have teams scrambling back for dear life in defence.
At this moment in time, Ireland are threatening much but have failed to instill that fear factor. One reason is that this important element of continuity in Ireland's game is missing.
The intent is there but some of the players' mistakes could be indicative of the fact that they have no firm template on how they are to go about breaking down defences, despite all the will and no small amount of skill at their disposal.
Apart from any technical analysis, it's hard to put your finger on Ireland's Jekyll and Hyde performances.
When the boys in green have performed well against the better sides it has been largely down to an ability to create very fast ball at the contact area.
It is very difficult to replicate that level of ferocity in every single clash, as each game, by its very nature, creates more or less emotion and adrenaline.
In that sense, Ireland would do well to get to a point where they create a lot more doubt for defensive lines, particularly off slow to medium pace possession.
More line breaks would surely come, and our best players in behind, with more line breaks, would finally be unleashed into games more and more.s