The pressure is mounting on Irish rugby following an underwhelming performance on Saturday afternoon.
Georgia, by comparison, would be severely under-powered in terms of facilities, resources and the quality of talent at their disposal but they looked like the hungrier and more physical team in the Aviva.
The Irish scrum was made to look average at various stages which gave Georgia a foothold while putting a halt to any momentum Ireland were building in one of the most stop-start encounters of the last few weeks.
Games are never decided on the scoreline of one half but if we were to indulge in that method of thinking for a moment, Ireland drew 3-3 in the second half when they should have been miles ahead with regards to organisation, squad depth and the condition of the country's most elite players as the game went on.
There were snippets of what Ireland are trying to implement. At times you could almost see the Irish frustrations as they attempted to lift the pace of the game but were turned over repeatedly in the second half.
While I have afforded Andy Farrell and his team the benefit of the doubt in the last couple of weeks, Saturday's result was a tough one to focus on the positives.
Tadhg Beirne started the game brightly with a trademark turnover and some expert line-out defence in the absence of Peter O’ Mahony. Beirne showed some of his quality but it still won’t be enough to force the management to consider him among the starting second row or back rows. He’s finding himself caught between two positions on the international stage.
One of the most promising aspects of the Irish game was that their runners off Conor Murray were a bit less predictable. They ran with two lines where the first forward ran towards Murray with the second one in a deeper line and heading slightly away from the scrum half.
This will give the defence slightly more decisions to make and should result in easier carries and gain line for the forward pack. It looks similar to what Leinster are currently doing and it’s working for them.
However, it was a bit disjointed after the first 20 minutes of attack where this tactic was visible until closer to the end of the game where we saw more of that shape. It was effective when utilised but probably slightly forgotten about in the middle period, especially considering the lack of continuity in the game.
Ireland also started with an intent down the short side similar to last week when Jamison Gibson-Park began to unlock the English defence. But yet again it looked like something that was a focus to start the game and it fizzled out despite how effective it was.
It was so forgotten about in the second half that when Shane Daly was given the chance to make his debut he was quick to reset on the short side and was ignored in favour of this 'around the corner’ tactic that has been running Ireland into heavily loaded defences.
Billy Burns was also a positive from the off. His game wasn’t all well controlled but he did enough to show promise going forward as an added dimension in the Irish attack and he definitely offers something a bit different to other available out-halves. Again, this positive turned into a negative when Burns left the field with an injury and the game lost the remainder of its flow.
We learned that Finlay Bealham is lacking the experience needed on the loosehead side at international level and will probably find it hard to get back into that jersey. He struggled with the scrum at times but in his defence, so did the referee.
The scrum was a bit of a lottery for those of us that aren’t experts on hinging, angles and the dark arts, and I’d include the referee in that infinitely long group.
The worrying thing for me is that Scotland are a huge step up from the passionate Georgians who scored their first Autumn Nations Cup try last weekend. Scotland will sense the fragility in the Aviva Stadium next weekend and will use the fixture as a springboard themselves.
Now is as good a time as ever for them to turn Ireland over in Dublin, it will be an ominous challenge for the home team.
The questions are starting to build around Irish rugby after the performances in the last few weeks
Andy Farrell’s experimentation won’t be the focus next week, nor can he afford it to be. He needs to nail his colours to the mast for this one and pick his strongest team to get a result before the squad prepare for next year’s Six Nations. He has admirably developed a squad that he can work with for the next World Cup cycle and that will continue into 2021.
However, it’s time to get the confidence back in this team and go full throttle to get the best result possible against Scotland.
The questions are starting to build around Irish rugby after the performances in the last few weeks. I’m aware that Georgia are tough to play against and the Wales performance shows more evidence of that. However, the stronger teams like England will put these second tier nations away comfortably and Ireland need to do the same, no matter what building phase they are in and what selection they choose for those games.
I’m conscious that we can’t ask for change and then back out at the first sign of transition within the performances. Change takes time and you may need to take a step back before going on to achieve big things. We saw how poor the French were before coming full circle and now look like a real force heading towards a home World Cup in 2023.
Nevertheless, it’s crunch time for this Irish management with a lot riding on next week’s result. It will dictate how this cycle of players and management are perceived in the public eye, as well as building internal confidence, continuity and progression. There is work to do.