Ireland earned their second victory in the Six Nations against a struggling Italy team at the Stadio Olimpico. This, though, didn’t stop certain players leaving the field looking fairly frustrated.
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray both left the field looking less than impressed and have arguably looked far from their very best so far in the tournament.
The 26-16 win was by no means as convincing as the full-time score may have suggested as hot favourites Ireland were on the ropes early on after Edoardo Padovani and Luca Morisi’s quick tries looked to have stunned the visitor’s back-line.
The Italians led at the break 16-12 as Ireland looked well below their best.
But they soon turned it around and went on to score 14 more points to eventually come away victorious in Rome.
But some pundits expressed concerns about some of the on-pitch behaviour from the Irish players during the win, including Sexton’s reaction to being subbed off in the second half.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt insisted that the reason Sexton was annoyed was not towards the decision to bring him off though.
Without directly insulting the tactics of the Italian team, Schmidt said that it was actually the continuous off-the-ball challenges, right before he was brought off, that was the reason for his anger.
“I think Johnny was a bit angry when he came off because he’d just been hit three times off the ball,” said Schmidt, per RugbyPass. “I’m not saying any of it was illegal. They were well-timed challenges, some of them. He gets that every week, but he felt a degree of frustration about that.”
Again, Schmidt was careful with his choice of words and suggested that Sexton’s knock to his thigh would not arise any more cause for concern. It did, however, stop the Leinster star from any goal-kicking throughout the match.
He said: “Johnny just got a bump when the same guy got him twice in a row,” said Schmidt. It just looked like he was looking for him, and fair play to him, he got him. So, he was a bit sore.”
Schmidt went on to suggest that both Sexton and Murray were personally frustrated with their own performances, but insists they put too much pressure on themselves.
“And Conor is frustrated, he felt that there should have been a decision made when the ball gets taken off him. I haven’t really looked at that to know. He’s grumpy and then there’s a real danger that you start trying too hard.
“You then tend to create pressure on yourself and then you don’t play well. You play best when your confidence is good, you have a sense of responsibility and you combine the two to be fluent in what you’re delivering.
“When players don’t get an early touch in the game that’s positive, that accumulates, that frustration.
“I’m proud of the players that they stayed calm enough to make sure we got the win and the five points.”
With Ireland still in with an outside chance of retaining the Six Nations, Schmidt, 53, has admitted that more work has to be done to get the best out of his two star men.
“We’re still trying to get a rhythm for Johnny. And I think Conor’s still trying to find his feet. There’s a bit of a risk for Conor that he tries too hard. He’s frustrated that he’s not the smooth-running machine that he normally is.
“But I thought he put in some really nice kicks today. On the back of that, I’m hoping that he gets a bit of his confidence back. I think he’s going to keep building, and France will be another opportunity for him, all being equal.”
Ireland, now, head back home to prepare for their fourth match of the Six Nations against France on March 10.