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Schmidt rates Gilroy display as 'a mixed bag' as Jackson stresses his quality

The Ulster wing scored three tries but didn’t fully meet the Ireland head coach’s standards.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico

CRAIG GILROY WAS back in an Ireland shirt in the Six Nations for the first time since 2013 today and made up for lost time by grabbing a hat-trick of tries in the commanding 63-10 win over Italy.

Craig Gilroy scores a try Gilroy scored three tries for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Ulsterman was something of a surprise choice on the Ireland bench in the first place, and probably got longer to make an impact than he had expected to when replacing the injured Robbie Henshaw in the 47th minute.

His show and go to completely fool Michele Campagnaro for an excellent individual try was a clear highlight, while he also finished from an awkwardly-bouncing CJ Stander clearance kick and from a long Paddy Jackson pass.

While many Ireland supporters were deeply impressed with the 25-year-old’s contributions, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt saw plenty of scope for improvement.

“I thought it was a mixed bag for Craig,” said Schmidt. “There was a couple of defensive things, positionally, that I think he’ll learn from.

“He was the recipient of one of the most outstanding tactical kicks I’ve seen in a long time from CJ Stander. CJ swears that it was meant to come off the side of his foot like that so he could get the relevant spin to get it into Craig’s hands.

“[Craig] doesn’t need too many invitations when the ball bounces. He is quick, his ability to change direction is very, very good and he took a nice high ball at one stage. He ticked most of his boxes really well.

“The reason we chose him is because we were going to maybe give a few different guys chances over these first two weeks, we committed to that.

Craig Gilroy on the way to scoring their sixth try Gilroy streaks clear of the Italian defence. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We probably made less changes than we originally thought, partly because of injuries to guys like Peter O’Mahony, Johnny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, who we thought would be available by now.

“The great thing is that they will definitely be available for our next game and hopefully there will be a few headaches now in terms of selection.”

While Gilroy collected three tries on his Ireland return, his provincial team-mate Paddy Jackson was excellent in the 10 shirt.

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The Ulster out-half was 100% off the tee, converting all of Ireland’s nine tries – even if Schmidt joked about the second of them.

“He certainly learnt a lot in South Africa and in November as well, particularly the All Blacks game where he came under a lot of pressure and had to make some decisions with very, very little time and space to make them,” said Schmidt of Jackson.

“Then last week, we were so far down, to lead us back into the game – he did really well. I would say that I think it was his second conversion today was one of the ugliest ones I’ve ever seen.

“The actual flight of the ball looked like a wounded duck. I think he turned around to Richie [Murphy] and he couldn’t quite believe it had gone over, but it was the same two points as the other ones he struck superbly.

“The other ones, there were three from wide out and he struck them superbly to put them between the posts, and the wounded duck was a bonus.”

Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Jackson was 100% off the tee. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While Jackson may have impressed in Rome, Schmidt is expected to bring the fit-again Sexton straight back into his starting team for the clash against France in Dublin on 25 February.

It may frustrate Jackson’s supporters, but Sexton remains the clear first-choice for Schmidt’s Ireland.

That said, the head coach is pleased that Jackson is making the selection call tighter all the time.

“Johnny has proven he can come straight back into the side and hit the ground running, and he’s done that on other occasions,” said Schmidt.

“I guess this window has allowed Paddy an opportunity to put his hand up and say, ‘That shouldn’t be an automatic choice.’”

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Murray Kinsella

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