THIS DIDN’T FEEL like a World Cup encounter, more like a Hong Kong 7′s tryfest, mixed with Arthur’s Day.
Foregone conclusions can lead to strange performances, but how could you not play a little fun rugby for this frothing crowd of 25,000.
This one meant a lot to the younger less established players, but you felt it meant more to Ronan O’Gara, as he repeatedly slammed a clenched fist into his palm during the warm-up.
That focus flowed through to the opening stages, as he whizzed his first pass, boomed his first clearance and then nudged a deft crossfield kick into the arms of Andrew Trimble for the opening try of the night.
This was never going to be like New Plymouth.
For Declan Kidney the most encouraging aspect was the confidence taken from the win over Australia seems to have oozed its way into the whole squad. The team created their tries rather than profiting from Russian mistakes, the handling errors of the summer series now seem like a distant memory, and he will have a few tricky selection decisions too, particularly at out half and wing.
Fifteen to one
Of the players still scrapping for a place in the match-day 22 against Italy – Andrew Trimble, Isaac Boss, Denis Leamy, Leo Cullen, Donncha Ryan, and Fergus McFadden – Trimble was the pick of the lot, scoring two of his own and showing that he has analysed his game in depth and improved the weaker aspects of it, something he attributed after the game to an unprecedented injury free run.
Unfortunately for him, Keith Earls, the man he would realistically hope to replace had his best game in a long time, showing he still has the best sidestep in the country and when he gets his vision right he can be devastating. This was the match for him to fill his boots, and a return of two tries in 47 minutes was fair reward. Indeed, of all the first choice backline, he needed this injection of belief the most.
The pack were once again immense with Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Tony Buckley all moving their huge frames around the pitch to good effect, and Jamie Heaslip showed some subtle touches and a welcome return to top form.
As is his wont, Kidney talked post-match about the areas they need to improve on.
There were long periods of inactivity in the middle of the second half, he isn’t happy with the missed tackles for the two Russian tries, and he insisted that the biggest game for Ireland has always been the Italy game, irrespective of what’s been said and written about the Autralia game.