Love can of course occasionally numb the senses of reason, but even if you coat a pig in lipstick, it’s still a pig.
Rugby may well be a game that many love, piquing 76,000 people into GAA HQ last Saturday, but last Saturday’s Six Nations opener was soaked in pig fat such was its complete and utter paucity.
Rarely, if ever has there been as god-awful a half of rugby played in Dublin this decade – it was certainly the poorest standard produced during the IRFU’s tenancy at Croker.
Just five minutes before half-time, Ireland led by 20 points. The Italians were being rightly screwed in the scrum by referee Romain Poite, but even allowing for that, their pack found the going incredibly tough.
The Irish had also driven a wrecking ball through the Italian lineout, peppered by more holes than the Blackburn Lancashire John Lennon once sang of.
Basically, Italy’s approach was about as likely to produce match-winning rugby as RTE are of commissioning digestible Monday night comedy.
With kilotons of possession, Ireland ought to have had the Italians hung, drawn and quartered, but, for some reason, it just didn’t happen.
But this, after all, is sport – you get days when things don’t go your way despite the very best laid plans.
But remember this: Ireland won by 18 points (the average margin of victory over Italy over the past decade stands at 20) and in doing so, stretched their unbeaten run to a dozen games.
It’s not that long ago that Ireland fielded teams incapable of beating Italy – and pretty much anyone else for that matter.
Success, of course, breeds expectation – and there’s nothing wrong with that. No-one sets standards higher than the players and management themselves, as their record in recent years heartily illustrates.
But to listen to some of the immediate post-match reaction, one could have been easily mistaken into believing that Ireland had suffered a humiliating defeat which had left our Championship dream on the rocks.
The facts are this: Ireland scored 29 points, featuring two tries and a dominant pack performance. Italy’s try was the result of a blocked Rob Kearney kick. That aside, Nick Mallett’s men looked about as dangerous as a ballet dancer all game long.
Wearing my player’s hat, players are primarily motivated to do one thing and one thing only: win. Ireland did that last Saturday, despite the apocalyptic protestations of some so-called ‘experts’.
If a win also produces a good performance, then that’s a bonus – it’s one less thing to work on come the next training session.
It’s a safe bet to suggest that on Saturday, the post-match Irish dressing room was a far from satisfied one, despite the victory.
But do you think they’ll play a blind bit of notice to what’s been broadcasted and written since Saturday?
Well, they may read some of it, but none of it should bother them – after all, it’s not as if any of the hot air spouters will be settling into scrum machines during their week’s work.
Italy is done with. It’s history. What’s done can’t be undone and so on. Hearts and minds have moved on to what is surely the greatest challenge of the campaign: the trip to Paris, where Ireland has won only twice since 1972.
Victory over the French would, at the risk of tempting fate, see one Irish hand clasped onto the Six Nations trophy again. The momentum that a win next Saturday would create would be difficult to quantify such would be the enormity of such a success.
Of course, there are a few obstacles that require overcoming if that win is to be realised.
Firstly, there’s no telling what France will turn up – coach Marc Lievremont’s chopping and changing policy makes analysing ‘les Bleus’ decidedly tricky business.
But, above all other rugby nations, France’s mercurial brilliance means they’re more than capable of producing a World Cup winning performance at Saint Denis: forget not, they won in New Zealand last summer.
On the flip side, they’re also readily capable of resembling a sad, disaffected, moody lot who, as Madame Bardot once declared, would like nothing better than to be left alone.
Irish consistency over the past couple of years could be critical during Saturday’s match: if the pack fronts up again the way it did last weekend, Kidney’s men will be halfway there.
But Ireland need to line break to much greater affect against France in comparison to what was mustered at Croke Park, where a predominantly offside, yet nonetheless effective Italian defence stymied their advances.
The skip pass from fly-half to skipper worked tremendously well during last year’s campaign – it was tried a couple of times last Saturday – but in modern rugby, tactics never stand still.
That’s why, and you can lay a beret on it, that the French will have pored through the past 12 months of Irish displays, noting how Australia effectively neutered the Irish attack last autumn.
Kidney and backs coach Les Kiss will have spent many hours in recent months pondering how to make the Irish attack more difficult to read.
It’s something the French have never had to trouble themselves too greatly with such is their ability to move the ball from anywhere on the park to produce five pointers.
Hitting O’Driscoll is tried and tested, but there’s only so many times the skipper can pull the required rabbit out of a hat. So the onus to utilise either wing, be it out wide or as an additional infield option, is surely being looked at.
Ping pong rugby, which we were subjected to during the second half on Saturday last, won’t win Championships, so one can expect to see the ball in hand a lot more in Paris.
And while the unfairly maligned pack will have to provide the platform to make victory attainable for Ireland, moving the ball well through our speedsters will surely be the component most required for victory.
After all, our captain is worthy of more than just producing some lovely kicks to touch – so let’s get him and our backs moving.
So chins up, everyone. Just one line break or interception next Saturday could make all the difference.
And, despite the spouting spewed forth by some in the past few days, we’ve got the players who can make it happen. But by God, it will not be easy. It never is in Paris.
France v Ireland, Saturday,
RTE Two, Kick-Off: 4.30pm