locked in

Toner and man-of-the-match Ryan drive dominant win over weak Italy

Ultan Dillane added his carrying and handling excellence off the bench again.

PAUL O’CONNELL’S SHADOW will continue to loom over Ireland’s locks and Italy proved to be worse opposition that expected, but this was a good day for Joe Schmidt’s second row as the home side won 58-15.

Donnacha Ryan was named man of the match after an all-action performance, but Devin Toner could have claimed that prize if he had spent longer on the pitch. Ultan Dillane again showed his promise off the bench in the second half.

Donnacha Ryan receives the RBS man of the match medal from John Flynn Ryan was man of the match for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It was a day for running rugby and many of Ireland’s backs – including honourary member Sean Cronin – enjoyed themselves, but the engine room was in good working order to allow those men to flourish and finish.

Toner started the game particularly strongly, winning an early steal of the Italian lineout and then carrying well in the subsequent passage of attack as Ireland built towards Andrew Trimble’s opening try.

Indeed, this was much improved from the Irish lineout after their hiccup in London as they had a 100% return on their own ball and disrupted the supply line of Italian ball.

Neither Toner nor Ryan made big yardage with their ball carrying overall, but both men put their hands up for the less glamorous runs closer in to the rucks as Ireland went through their varied attacking phase play.

Both second rows showed awareness to pass the ball on occasion, doing so three times each, although Dillane is clearly the most comfortable of Ireland’s lock options in this department.

He came off the bench with 25 minutes remaining and twice showed his sleight of hand to slip carriers into gaps. His contribution to Ireland’s final attacking thrust, which ended tryless, was most notable as he passed and then followed up to hammer a ruck.

On the next phase, Finlay Bealham showed his handling quality, another sign of the good work being done by Pat Lam and co. in Connacht.

Devin Toner and George Biagi Toner led the Irish lineout to a much-improved performance. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Though Ryan and Toner gained only 12 metres between them, Dillane ate up 27 in his five carries after appearing off the bench, underlining his dynamism and hunger when sent thundering at the defensive line. He picks out soft shoulders with his footwork and burst of acceleration too.

Munster man Ryan was excellent against England a fortnight ago in Twickenham and picked up where he had left off. The 32-year-old showed real defensive leadership, making 12 tackles in a count that only the highly promising Josh van der Flier bettered.

Many of those hits from Ryan were aggressive and stymied any chance of Italian momentum, with the Tipp man continually hammering up hard off the defensive line to make his statement.

There was intensity too in Ryan’s lineout performance as he hassled and harried the Italians, often screaming at them to get the ball in. That is when the Munster lock is at his very best – a disruptive, destructive and aggressive influence.

The Italian locking trio were far weaker than Joe Schmidt would have lead us to believe before this game, but even still Toner, Ryan and Dillane can relax this evening content at their collective display.

Iain Henderson remains on the comeback trail and looks a certainty to start in the second row in South Africa this summer, presuming of course that Schmidt continues to view the Ulsterman as a lock.

Ultan Dillane Dillane looks built for this level of rugby. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Henderson’s explosive ball carrying, choke tackling and turnover threat will add a huge amount for Ireland against the Boks if he can get fully fit after his hamstring injury, but Schmidt will have been encouraged to see three of his other options excel today.

Scotland’s visit next weekend poses an interesting proposition, with Dillane clearly crying out for a first opportunity to start for Ireland.

He has impressed against tiring sides in his two caps so far, and there would be real value in ascertaining whether Dillane’s physicality and skill level can cope with Scotland’s strong locks.

At 22 and 24, Dillane and Henderson are the future, but the experience of 29-year-old Toner and 32-year-old Ryan remains important.

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