Wednesday 28 September 2016

Five things we've learned

Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30

A mix-up between Scotland's Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour of Scotland gifts a try to Keith Earls Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
A mix-up between Scotland's Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour of Scotland gifts a try to Keith Earls Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
George Kruis has been an invaluable asset for England Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Referee Pascal Gauzère after showing Johnny Sexton his yellow card Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

1. Back-row balance again vindicates Schmidt calls : A few eyebrows were raised when Tommy O’Donnell’s name was read out on the team sheet on Thursday ahead of Josh van der Flier but Joe Schmidt was again fully vindicated in his selection.

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While O’Donnell, CJ Stander and man of the match Jamie Heaslip all impressed individually, their performance as a unit was pivotal to Ireland dominating the breakdown.

Van der Flier’s time will of course come again and O’Donnell, who topped Ireland’s tackle count (11), played as if he had a chip on his shoulder.

The Munster player’s discipline let him down at times, which is something that will no doubt be addressed by Schmidt, but he gave a timely reminder of his ability to play at the highest level.

Heaslip rolled back the years in what was his best game in a green jersey in some time. His link-up play and subtle off-loads caused the Scottish defence problems all game and that’s not to mention his 18 carries.

The fresh blood in the back-row appears to be bringing the best in Heaslip. The challenge for the Ireland No 8 now is to consistently play at that level, and against the better sides.

2. Long live the maul

It hasn’t been a common feature in Ireland’s play during this Six Nations but in the last two games, there have been signs that the maul is becoming the weapon of old.

Paul O’Connell’s absence has of course contributed to that but with the likes of Donnacha Ryan back to his best, Scotland struggled to cope with the power of the Irish maul.

Both Conor Murray and Devin Toner’s tries (his first for Ireland) came off the back of the maul and although it may not be the most glamorous game-plan, it is highly effective and has brought Ireland plenty of success. It needs to be used more going forward.

3. Enter Andy Farrell

Come April 1, Andy Farrell will officially begin his role as Ireland’s defence coach and judging by the team’s leaky record in this season’s Championship, he has plenty of work to do.

Not since 2008 when Ireland conceded 10 tries have they leaked more than they did this season (9).

The loss of Les Kiss was always going to be felt and perhaps this campaign proved just how important the Australian’s role was in Schmidt’s grand plan.

Ireland’s total of nine tries conceded is two more than what they conceded in Schmidt’s first two combined Six Nations in charge.

A big personality like Farrell will have his own ideas and perhaps a fresh approach is just what is needed as Ireland look to shore up their defence.

4. Ireland save their best for last

Ireland saved their best two performances for last but crucially it was when there was nothing to play for. The question must be asked; why was this the case?

The Championship was there for the taking but a poor performance in the Stade de France halted any sort of title charge.

Five new players were capped and while this may have been a ‘transitional period’, there will still be some who feel that a couple of more changes could have been made, particularly for the dead-rubber against Italy.

Attention will now turn to the summer tour of South Africa and although that isn’t the most ideal place to blood new players, Ireland will at least head there with the momentum of two consecutive wins behind them.

5. Half-backs remain as pivotal as ever

Johnny Sexton has endured a largely difficult Six Nations but he dictated the tempo in the manner that he has been looking for throughout the campaign. He regularly varied the point of attack and Scotland could not live with his creativity.

The out-half continues to put himself in the firing line and despite being continually targeted he has never shirked his defensive responsibilities, as his 10 tackles on Saturday suggested.

Scrum-half Conor Murray has been one of the most consistent performers in the last five games and his understanding with Sexton continues to give Ireland an edge against most opposition.

Weekend uncovered

Star man

George Kruis (England). One of England’s standout performers in their Grand Slam success, Kruis has rapidly become one of the most important players in the engine room.

Kruis’ form has improved throughout the Six Nations and he saved his best performance for last as the England lineout won all 13 of their own throws and also stole four of France’s.

The Saracens second-row was somehow overlooked for the man of the match award.

His partnership with 21-year-old clubmate Maro Itoje is a hugely exciting prospect.

Scouting report

Donnacha Ryan (Ireland)

It’s taken the Munster player some time to find his form after a run of injuries but on Saturday he was back to his best.

With Iain Henderson still to return from injury and Ultan Dillane growing in stature with every game, Ireland’s options in the second-row are suddenly looking more healthy.

Numbers game

9: Tries that Ireland conceded in this season’s championship, which is more than the total number (7) that they conceded in Schmidt’s first two combined campaigns.

Quote-unquote

“The question about whether we can beat the All Blacks or not. . . maybe not now but in the next two or three years we’ll have a side to beat the All Blacks.”

- Confidence is understandably high in the England camp and Eddie Jones has his sights set on beating the world champions.

The weekend in tweets

Lewis Moody (@LewisMoody7)

Come on sexton we are not footballers.

Andy Goode (@AndyGoode10)

Poor from Sexton, appealing for it then going down holding his head like a footballer.

The two former England internationals are just a couple of the many ex-players who were outraged by Sexton’s response to a tip-tackle which resulted in Alex Dunbar’s yellow card.

Trevor Hogan (@TrevHogan)

Sexton is a warrior - typified by becoming the 1st out half to be binned for sacking a maul. #IREvSCO

The differing opinion on Sexton’s afternoon.

Frankie Sheahan (@FrankieSheahan)

Unbelievable try by Stuart Hogg, incredible pace

It was difficult not to admire it.

Brian O’Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll)

Good finish to @rbs_6_nations for @IrishRugby. Killer instinct back in a big way! Well done to all involved. Stander very good again.

Ref link

“Can you come quicker? No meeting before the lineout.”

After a fast start by Ireland, Scotland are keen to slow down the pace of play but they are given an early warning by Pascal Gauzere.

“I think it was with the hand. With his hand when he was moving and it hit your face.”

Greig Laidlaw receives attention but as Gauzere explained, it was completely accidental. 

“13, that’s enough. You chat one, two times. That’s enough.”

Gauzere’s patience runs thin early on with Duncan Taylor.

“You came from the side and killed the ball. I have only one option.”

Straightforward yellow card for John Barclay as Scotland’s indiscipline at the breakdown continues.

“My message wasn’t clear maybe? I give a yellow card already. Keep your discipline.”

Scotland are given another warning shortly after Barclay’s sin-binning.

“Stay in the game please and don’t talk too much okay.”

Laidlaw is the latest Scot to be singled out for having too much to say.

“Your clean is legal but your colleague prevented the contest from the side.”

Rory Best is told that it was Tommy O’Donnell who conceded a silly penalty and not the Irish captain.

“Your clean-out is dangerous. You landed the player on his back.”

Alex Dunbar is the second Scot of the game to be shown a yellow card.

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