Kidney is lucky to get away with win
O'Gara to the rescue again as muddled Irish performance shows they've yet to come up with coherent game plan
This was the day to get it all out of the way. There was nowhere else Ireland could have gone in the Six Nations, played so badly, made so many mistakes and still survived with a win.
There seemed to be an element of falling between two stools. They neither played with Munster authority or Leinster dash. This was a game plan designed to meet in the middle. Ultimately, it led to nothing more than a muddle.
Ireland were taken to within three minutes and one swipe of replacement out-half Ronan O'Gara's right boot of having their building blocks of tempo and momentum turn to rubble on day one of the Championship.
It was 'deja vu' for O'Gara as he found the time and space to clip a vital drop goal at the start of this Championship that was closely related in pressure and timing to that at the death of the 2009 Grand Slam match.
"What is important for me is that you have a contribution. I have been lucky enough to steer the ship for well over 10 years and I have to have an impact when I come on," stated O'Gara.
"That is the way I deal with things. I think Jonny (Sexton) played well and I can have an impact. That is what we are going to need. The two of us will have a role going forward. The sooner people appreciate that the better," he said, with a hint of hardness.
It could have all fallen apart when Italy full-back Luke McLean sent the home support into rapture with a slick try for the sliver of an 11-10 lead in the 77th minute. A moment like that required a measured, controlled response beneath the sticks.
"I did take control a small bit. I spoke first. Then, Brian was really calm in what he said. 'We've been in this position before and we've delivered'.
"Once you hear that -- there was a nice calmness about it -- I asked for the restart to come back to me. We needed to go short. Once we got that, I was pretty confident we would get an opportunity."
For all his self-confessed limitations, the outstanding moment of 'true grit' shown by Ireland was the super-intense grimace of Mike Ross at scrum time in defence of his line deep into the last quarter.
Just imagine how the jaded John Hayes or the faded Tony Buckley would have coped under that pressure. It could have been, hell ... would have been a penalty try.
Sadly, there was no sign of evolution from November. It was like taking a step back in time. There was no offloading, no coming onto the ball from deep, no support at the carrier's shoulder. It doesn't take a genius to see Ireland could not afford to go to the trenches with Italy. They should have played it fast and wide.
Tempo is everything to them. They do not have the bulk to smash through a brick wall, like say England. They have to look to their smart economy.
For instance, Sean O'Brien was man-marked by Italy's single world class player, Sergio Parisse. Yet, Ireland insisted on running O'Brien straight at him.
The Tullow man never once looked to dispatch an offload or receive one. This is a game plan that does not suit the personnel, even considering the dozen injuries.
"It is a big step up to this level from the Heineken Cup. It is only when you play a succession of games you appreciate that," conceded O'Gara.
"Italy are under-appreciated. First and second up in the championship, they are always a difficult team. At times, we nearly ripped them apart. But, they hung in there.
"We forced it a small bit, maybe played a lot of ball 30 yards from our own line when, maybe, we could have played a little more territory and given our forwards a break," came the assessment of a man steeped in the best traditions of Munster rugby.
The unwillingness of Paul O'Connell to call the lineouts to the middle or back on a perfect day for throwing spoke to a lack of trust between the pack leader and his hooker Rory Best. If Ireland wanted to go quickly off the top, they had to look further down the line rather than the safe clutches of Donncha O'Callaghan at number two. The tail was sealed off by Alessandro Zanni.
Number eight O'Brien has torn up defences off the shoulder of Eoin Reddan or from loose ball when the game is broken up.
Coach Declan Kidney is in danger of looking left behind. There is no shame in copying Leinster's quick tempo.
He is not going to be able to bully the French and English packs that come to Dublin.
Maybe, Kidney kept a lot in the locker. Maybe, he drew on a limited playbook to camouflage the depth and width of the plan that can confound France next Sunday.