The Guinness Six Nations table looks like it has a glitch, doesn’t it?

While a young and developing Wales side, along with Italy are still seeking a first win, everybody else has picked up at least one victory across the opening two weekends. But look at the points-difference tallies.

France, who triumphed by four against Scotland in Murrayfield, are on minus-17 in points difference due to the heavy loss at home to Ireland. With Scotland earning a losing bonus point, they are on five in total and sit in third place, yet they too are in the red on the points-difference front, allowing three more than they’ve scored.

Second-placed England do at least have a positive aggregate, but only five points, which is brought into even sharper focus by the fact that their opening match was away to Italy. They had three points to spare in Rome and then held off Wales to win by two.

And there there’s Ireland, top with two wins from two – and a scoring difference of 57 points. Fifty seven.

Fair enough, Italy at home is a chance to stockpile but they showed against England how they can frustrate. There was never a hint of complacency, Ireland asserting themselves from the off, and the concentration never let up as the visitors couldn’t put a point on the board.

Blowing smoke

The Italy coach, former Argentina star Gonzalo Quesada, was not blowing smoke when he compared Ireland to the New Zealand teams of old. He meant it in terms of nailing the basics, again and again, efficient to the point of ruthlessness.

In that light, Andy Farrell’s view that Ireland were, “pretty clinical, but a bit clunky and patchy in parts” just shows the level of standard expected inside the camp.

With a break until the Wales game, the one injury concern is full-back Hugo Keenan, who was forced off in the second half. He is a nailed-on starter and difficult to replace but, then again, James Ryan looked a definite Lions selection not so long ago and at the moment, he is on the bench as Joe McCarthy makes Test rugby look easy.

That more than anything underlines how impressive the Ireland machine is now and that doesn’t happen by accident.

In terms of a response after the World Cup, we couldn’t ask for more.

‘Investment will always be worth it’

I used to listen to RTÉ Radio 1 when I was a teenager, so I can always claim to have been old at heart, but the body and the birth cert are catching up at a frantic rate.

Last week, there was a genuine, ‘I remember when all of this was fields’ moment, though, at the same time, it was emblematic of positive progress.

It’s coming up on 17 years since I left the University of Limerick – the four-year period remains fresh in the memory and friendships have thankfully endured.

For a trip there in 2013, I witnessed the new north campus and the array of sporting facilities, added on to what was already an impressive set-up around the UL Arena. Then, the Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final necessitated another journey up the N20 (would it be cynical or optimistic to assume that it would be the M20 in time for the Ryder Cup in 2027?).

Two decades ago, Maguire’s Fields were just that, an expanse where teams representing UL ran themselves to a standstill, the green grass giving way to brown mud fairly soon after the academic year began.

Now, it is a complex with two astroturf pitches and a carpet-like GAA pitch, reserved for only the most important matches. While the Fitzgibbon game was going on there, the 4G pitch next door housed ladies’ football and then freshers’ hurling, while on the next field the UL Vikings American football team were going through their scrimmages.

During the coverage of the Cork-Kilkenny Allianz Hurling League game last weekend, Dónal Óg Cusack launched more than a few broadsides in a soliloquy that naturally drew attention.

A valid point among the soundbites was the under-usage of big GAA grounds and it’s something that deserves a proper analysis. However, in terms of providing pitches – rather than stadiums – for sports at third-level, there are always more needed.

Similar to UL, SETU Waterford’s Carriganore complex was heaving with competitors playing a variety of sports when we visited there for another Fitzgibbon game recently, and no doubt it’s the same scenario at campuses around the country. Investment in facilities like these will always be worth it in the long run.

Football fantasy league

Darragh Nugent of Shamrock Rovers on the attack in the Men’s President’s Cup final at Tallaght Stadium.

\ Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The SSE Airtricity League is back this weekend, with the meeting of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk being televised on Friday night.

Rovers are unquestionably the superpower at the moment, winners of the last four league titles, as Dundalk try to claw back the glory days that had them at the peak in the mid-to-late 2010s.

The Louth club are under new ownership for the second time in under a decade, with American-based Dubliner Brian Ainscough having taken control in December after ceding a stake in Kerry FC.

Investors are often attracted by the idea of taking over an Irish club in the hope of generating a windfall from European football, but getting there is not easy and the reality of club ownership can differ from the fantasy.

Supporters owning and running the club is the ideal but Cork City found that can run into problems, too – only for the Rebel Army to be relegated from the Premier Division last year following the takeover by Dermot Usher, who had spoken at the start of the year of aiming to qualify for Europe.

Opening night usually generates media attention and big crowds, with the challenge then to try to retain them. The league website is on top of things, with previews of the campaign for all the clubs – unfortunately, the site for the women’s league, which begins on 9 March, has not been updated since Peamount United won the title last November.

Read more

Biodiversity: learning to fall in love with your native flora

Medical research being carried out in partnership with Ulster Farmers Union