Ireland got off to the expected successful start in defence of their Six Nations title on Saturday. Italy are ideal cobweb removers at this time of year, and the old adage about starting as you mean to go on is secondary to the practicalities of putting your best foot forward when it matters most.
Though Declan Kidney would dismiss the notion, the next 18 months is all about maintaining a winning habit (14 matches unbeaten and counting) while consolidating, integrating and fine-tuning ahead of the World Cup.
Still, the RTÉ panel felt duty-bound to manufacture the obligatory post-match ‘heated debate’. George Hook said Ireland were “awful”, Brent Pope felt they should have kicked on, instead of just kicked, and annihilated the Italians, and Conor O’Shea pretty much concurred as usual. Only Tom McGurk made the obvious observation that the home side appeared intent on keeping something in reserve, seeing as there was the small matter of France in Paris (where we last won a decade ago) in seven days’ time.
The three lads weren’t having a bit of it. Cue an interview with Brian O’Driscoll who told Tracey Piggott that, sure, they didn’t go flat out, that there’s no point ‘peaking too soon’. McGurk 1, Hook 0.
Kidney is the ultimate pragmatist. He emptied his bench, tried a few ideas, maybe flew a few kites, and ensured Ireland didn’t show their full hand, just like the French looked to be playing within themselves at Murrayfield.
Only the panel seem to treat every game like it’s the end one.