As they say a win is a win so we’ll take Saturday’s victory but it was low on attacking quality or cutting-edge creativity.
n the end, we got there thanks to Ross Byrne’s nerves of steel, so often on display as a like-for-like kicking replacement for Johnny Sexton when closing out for Leinster on a regular big-match basis. Andy Farrell and Mike Catt are looking for more from their game-manager at ten but, with less than 12 months to go, don’t rule out the Leinster No 2 as that ultra-reliable bench replacement for the World Cup.
I really like what I see in Jack Crowley and the potential all-round game he offers Ireland but time is not on his or their sides.
There is another battle of the out-halves to be played out at Munster in the weeks and months ahead.
The similarities to the ‘toothlessness’ of Stephen Kenny’s Ireland in the 48 hours beforehand were running through my head as I watched – albeit with compulsive interest. Football may still do friends, rugby does not.
It was a different type of Test to the South African encounter a fortnight before and yet, as in that game, the result could so easily have gone either way.
Despite that all-round performance and the third November win on the bounce, that feel-good feeling was sadly lacking as we left the ground on Saturday (almost two hours and ten minutes after kick-off!).
In a sense, it is an unfair summation, given we have completed an unprecedented triple match-winning trick over the big southern hemisphere nations.
That’s an incredible achievement in a small country where rugby is still at best No 4 in the team sport pecking order.
Despite that achievement, the fear was on Saturday that the dreaded Mexican Wave might be just a few idiot-driven antics away. Thankfully, the result going to the wire ensured that we were spared that particular embarrassment.
Yes, Ireland won ugly but if they can repeat that when in a hole then Springbok-type days will occur more often. And while I suspect the decision to rest our engineer-in-chief, Johnny Sexton, was made much earlier in the week than was revealed, his influence would be felt by every other top team – with the possible exception of the All Blacks .
Quite apart from ensuring Crowley a hugely educational starting run at the highest level, there were some massive individual performances with Caelan Doris leading the way.
He may not have the physique of a Will Skelton or, indeed, Joe McCarthy but in terms of wrecking-ball influence he is right up there.
By a distance, he was our most influential player against the fired-up Wallabies for whom his opposite number Rob Valetini was equally effective. Doris had a massive input and was followed close behind by both props, Andrew Porter and the Tadhg Furlong.
Both locks, Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan, had their key moments and Josh van der Flier, though less conspicuous than of late, was right up there in terms of understated tackle count and work-rate off the ball.
Behind the scrum, few shone with Jamison Gibson-Park taking on an understandable workload at half-back over and above the ordinary.
In that key respect and on this occasion his regular out-half partner was clearly missed. How could it be any other way?
Garry Ringrose, the Van der Flier of the backline, was selfless as ever, while Jimmy O’Brien, without hitting top gear, has booked and paid for his seat at next year’s World Cup. Both Stuart McCloskey and Finlay Bealham edge ever closer that much-prized place on board.
After three intense weeks of rugby, and not just at the highest level, we are still a work in progress. We know that and recognize it for what it is.
We do not yet have a match-day squad built on like-for-like replacements and worryingly time is fast running out.
The conundrum at half-back remains and in both linking positions. We are in a promising place overall but, as the last fortnight in particular has shown, with much still to do and, on an individual level, so much still to play for.