Declan Kidney praised Ulster hooker Rory Best for the work he has put in and the determination he has shown in fighting his way back to fitness from a serious neck injury which had been expected to sideline him for the whole of the 2009/10 season.
Best was a 56th minute replacement for Munster’s Jerry Flannery, who also has had major injury worries this season.
“They’ve both worked exceptionally hard to be where they are now and get themselves right. I’d like to pay credit to that,” Kidney said.
“I think Jerry was motoring well, even after 55 minutes, but there was no point in putting him in a place where he was going to fatigue and the muscle was going to cramp up.
“Rory really deserved his chance because he’s done extraordinarily well to get himself to where he is.”
In tandem with Best taking over from Flannery, conversely there was a second switch with that one seeing a Munster player replace an Ulsterman.
The sole Ulster player in Ireland’s starting line-up, wing Andrew Trimble who played a big part in the build-up to Ireland’s opening try, was withdrawn as a precaution, Kidney explained.
Trimble was having a slight problem with a hamstring, in response to which the coach gave Irish utility back, Keith Earls, the nod.
And there were other injury-enforced switches, with out-half Ronan O’Gara and lock Paul |O’Connell also being withdrawn from what was a very physical, hard-fought battle.
O’Gara’s problem was a knock to the knee, while O’Connell picked up an eye injury which was swelling up as he left the pitch, to be replaced by fellow-Munster player Donnocha Ryan.
Paddy Wallace stepped in for O’Gara and promptly introduced himself to the fray by kicking a 67th minute penalty moments after his arrival.
Conceding that Ireland might well have leaked an early try when the Italians’ full-back Luke McLean came back inside rather than using the overlap winger Kaine Robertson offered, Kidney accepted it might have been a different game had the underdogs accepted that fifth minute opportunity.
And he agreed that there had been “a small bit of rustiness” in the champions’ first outing. By way of explanation Kidney reminded the media: “We took a conscious decision at Christmas that rest was the most important component.”
Stressing the positive he added: “We’re delighted with the win. Are we overly-excited with the performance? Not so.”