What once was our go-to attacking platform has become an Achilles heel for Ireland.
Stolen or disrupted line-out ball did untold damage to forward progress in the 16-12 defeat to South Africa last week.
Now (and this will be a running theme) Fiji will not anywhere near the same pressure on Sean Cronin as he endured in his cameo appearance last week, but Leinster hooker’s darts remain a weakness in his game.
Mike Ross is in harness, so the scrum will function well. It’s up to Cronin, Donncha O’Callaghan, Dan Tuohy and Jamie Heaslip to ensure the inexperienced backs have a reliable base to work from.
Straight lines, soft hands, can’t lose
Box-kicks, Garryowens, cross-field chips… these are all great, but this Irish side badly need to get as live experience with ball-in-hand as possible.
As a non-Test, the pressure should be off our players in Thomond Park. Paddy Jackson has shown time and again this season how capable he is of getting a back-line to purr, to this end Conor Murray should take some time off from hitting the ball skyward and feed his 10.
Once on the move we’d like to see Ireland’s backs, in this instance Denis Hurley and Fergus McFadden are best suited, take a straight line to create space with an offload.
Even with their contingent of part-timers, Fiji will hit hard. So off-loads will still have to be close on international standards. We’ll learn nothing by patiently testing and probing the visiting defence until an overlap presents itself.
The fast-tracking of Luke Marshall into the senior set-up is very welcome indeed and his performance for the opening 50 minutes or hour tonight will be an interesting barometer of how soon he can make the shirt his own.
However, If there’s one man who needs and deserves the full 80 minutes, it’s his club-mate and fly-half: Jackson.
While Iain Henderson looks a sure-fire bet to last the distance (with Mike McCarthy and Chris Henry the non-blind side options from the bench) Jonathan Sexton will be waiting impatiently in the wings. His run-on should come in Marshall’s place if Kidney is serious about using him as a centre from time to time.
As Leinster’s number 10 is 27 – and Munster’s, 35 – Jackson holds the long-term key for Ireland’s pivotal position. Let the boy play, and let the out-half debate begin all over again.