'B' squad just about bring 'A' game as Ireland defeat Georgia
Ireland 49-7 Georgia
On one of those so-called 'no-win' situations, Ireland managed to emerge with a victory and a clean bill of health and there's a lot to be said for both.
Joe Schmidt got to cast his eye over the next layer of talent while resting most of his big guns for Saturday's mammoth task against Australia and saw the second string posed problems by a big, game Georgian side whose limitations were exposed when they ran out of gas.
It was one of those afternoons for which the word facile was invented, but the coach saw merit in the exercise and some performances.
"Absolutely. I think you've got to give credit where credit is due," said Schmidt.
"The players worked hard. They suffocated a very physical opponent."
"They kept their structure and kept pressure on that opponent. And they got reward for it.
"If players roll their sleeves up and they do that, then I think they deserve to be looked at.
"That's a responsibility of the coaching staff to make sure we go through that.
"And that process will contribute to what we decide to go with next week. "
Ireland huffed and puffed, but the hard work paid off after half-time as they went from nought to six tries in 40 minutes.
They were helped by their opponents' poor discipline at the ruck and a stroke of bad luck to boot.
"For the majority of the second half they played with an extra man and for eight long minutes it was 15 on 13 and the full-time professionals did their damage.
It was a good day's work for Felix Jones who grabbed two tries, while Richardt Strauss made a real play for a starting berth next Saturday.
Dave Foley earned the man of the match award on his debut and, far more importantly, high praise from his coach.
Dominic Ryan and Robin Copeland also did well as they earned their first caps.
There were others who struggled, with the front-row creaking under their weight of the formidable Georgian scrum and Ulster pair Robbie Diack and Darren Cave making poor errors.
The wavering scrum almost saw Ireland slip behind as Merab Kvirikashvili pulled a sixth-minute penalty wide after Mike Ross slipped his bind.
But the excellent Ian Madigan put his side in front soon after as the tale of visiting indiscipline at the rucks began to unfold.
Georgia were relishing this rare shot at tier-one opposition and their intensity crossed the line into foul play on more than one occasion.
It was an old-fashioned test for the tight five and the new-look back-row and at times they struggled to give the backline quality ball.
When they did get opportunities, the much-changed combinations couldn't quite put the moves together.
Gordon D'Arcy was undone by a floated Ryan pass, Tommy O'Donnell suffered some white-line fever and spilled in the act of scoring and Cave didn't have the pace to latch on to his own chip ahead.
Madigan added a second penalty into the mix and, as the penalty count ticked towards critical mass, Ireland's pack looked to turn the screw with their maul without ever getting over the line.
Georgia were almost out of the woods with the game at 6-0 and the clock turning red, but they messed up their own lineout and scrum-half Giorgi Begadze conceded the one penalty too many and JP Doyle reached for his card as Madigan extended the lead to nine.
Whatever about coping with a full complement before half-time, the tiring Georgians were goosed with a man down and Dave Kilcoyne punished after another driving maul was held up short.
Diack could have put Reddan over for a try to cap his night as skipper but held on too long, although Strauss got over as Begadze returned in similar circumstances to Kilcoyne.
Restored to a full team, the Georgians got a try to reward their efforts when Ireland's fringe defence went missing, allowing Begadze to expose Foley and Ryan and put second-row Giorgi Nemsadze over.
Their moment was short-lived as No 8 Dimitri Basilaia kicked the ball while prone on the ground and was sent to the bin.
Ireland called the scrum, Cave picked Reddan's pass off his laces and Madigan sent Simon Zebo over.
Replacement fly-half Lasha Malaguradze was injured in the interim and, with the Georgian bench empty, they were down to 13 men.
Coach Milton Haig later said the serious looking injury was not as bad as first feared.
From there, Ireland plundered the outnumbered visitors and Felix Jones filled his boots with a brace before Stuart Olding capped his second cap with a well-worked try off an Ian Keatley pass.
It was far from perfect, but the coach was pleased with what he had seen from a scratch team.
Schmidt said: "The endeavour in first half, that's where we reaped the second-half reward.
"It allowed us to keep pressure on and that valve was set to burst at some stage and we certainly hoped it was," Schmidt said.
"I was pretty pleased with the first-half performance.
"It would have been nice to have finished off the opportunities close to the line.
"Against the big teams, we saw last weekend that can come back and haunt you a bit at the end of the game.
"We manufactured the opportunities, kept the pressure on them and that forced them to sometimes make a number of errors around the work.
"There were seven or eight ruck penalties in the first half and that starts to accumulate in the sense that they will pick up a more serious sanction and that will allow us a little bit more opportunity.
"I think the scrum will take another step next week. That is part of the progress that you would anticipate.
"In general play, a little bit of the pass accuracy wasn't bang on.
"I thought there was a nice wide pass from Dominic Ryan off his left hand that went 25 metres across the field.
"It was just a little bit high and stopped. Gordon D'Arcy, or I think Gordon, gets in in the corner - those are the fine margins that you've got to nail against a team that are as a good as Australia are."
The real business begins at Carton House today where the squad gather to continue their preparation for the Wallabies with most of the starters well-rested after their afternoon off.
A worthwhile hit-out is followed by a return to Test match intensity, a chance at a rare November clean sweep and a fitting end to a fine 2014 for Ireland.
Felix Jones 7: Solid both in defence and underneath the high ball and was rewarded with Ireland’s fourth and fifth scores of the contest.
Craig Gilroy 6: Shouldn’t be blamed for a knock on that was the product of a bad pass and found himself having to come inside regularly to find work.
Darren Cave 6: Showed good hands in the build-up to Simon Zebo’s try but was frustrated often as, at the last moment, he just failed to unlock the door.
Gordon D’Arcy 6: A younger D’Arcy may have scored in the first half but appears to have done enough to earn a start inside Robbie Henshaw next week.
Simon Zebo 7: Unlikely to score an easier international try than that one but did look capable of breaking down the stubborn opposition.
Ian Madigan 7: Madigan’s accuracy off the tee was important while he looked bright with ball in hand as he tried to squeeze through gaps.
Eoin Reddan 7: Tried to give Ireland’s tempo a boost during the opening half and was one of his side’s better players before being replaced.
Dave Kilcoyne 7: Provided a rare spark in the first half with one notable break and powered over for Ireland’s first score just after the break.
Richardt Strauss 6: May not provide the same dynamic style of Rory Best or Sean Cronin but carried with care and scored off the back of a rolling maul.
Mike Ross 6: Was pinged in one of the initial scrums but solidified thereafter and kept Ireland secure on their own put in before being subbed.
Dave Foley 8: Called a decent lineout and, when things weren’t going Ireland’s way, shouldered the responsibility with frequent carries.
Mike McCarthy 6: One of the more experienced internationals, Ireland will have looked to him for carries but he was most prominent in an effective maul.
Dominic Ryan 6: Couldn’t quite shade the breakdown but kept his composure when the victim of an unsavoury incident involving Viktor Koleishvili.
Tommy O’Donnell 6: Knocked on while stretching for the line in the first half but carried relatively well despite the untidy nature of the breakdown.
Robbie Diack 7: Almost put D’Arcy away early on and was a popular target in the lineout including