Sunday 16 June 2019

Every one of Joe Schmidt's calls vindicated by heroic display

Monday breakdown

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt possesses that rare ability to be able to get the best of his players when it matters most and he did so again on Saturday, which laid the foundations for another special victory.

Restoring Devin Toner and Rob Kearney, who were outstanding, to the starting XV was an inspired decision, while other similarly experienced internationals in need of a big game duly delivered.

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Rory Best showed that there is life in the old dog yet as he benefited from Toner's presence at lineout time. CJ Stander put in arguably his best display in a green jersey as he formed a totemic back-row alongside Josh van der Flier and the inspirational Peter O'Mahony.

The roar that was given to O'Mahony as he left the pitch when his battered body could take no more punishment was one of the loudest on a night when the Aviva Stadium crowd found their voice again.

The Munster skipper was a colossus and given his struggles in New Zealand on the Lions tour last year, he will have enjoyed every bit of Saturday night, despite the bodily pain.

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O'Mahony picked up the man of the match award but James Ryan couldn't have been far behind him.

After last weekend's barnstorming display against Argentina, this column suggested that the 22-year-old was fast becoming one of the most influential locks in the world and his performance when up against the best second-rows around, merely reiterated the point.

Once again, Ryan's stats were off the charts as he made 17 carries, 20 tackles and beat two defenders.

Ryan is one of those players, who you perhaps don't get a full appreciation for until you watch him live.

Another player who falls into that category is Garry Ringrose. The difference he makes to Ireland, both in attack and defence, is staggering.

Ringrose was effortlessly good as he firmly cemented his place as Ireland's undoubted first choice outside centre. A true Rolls-Royce player.

Sexton must win Player of the Year after outplaying Barrett

Of all the long lasting images (and there were a few) from a remarkable night in Dublin, perhaps none of them will stand the test of time as much as Johnny Sexton's highly charged reaction after burying Ben Smith into touch late on.

This win meant a lot to Sexton. He has tasted defeat at the hands of the All Blacks enough times down through the years to know how rare and special victories over them are.

Deep down, the Ireland out-half would have been desperate to get one over on his opposite number Beauden Barrett as the pair are going head-to-head for World Rugby's Player of the Year award which will be announced on November 25.

Sexton capped a stunning year, which included expertly steering Ireland to the Grand Slam, a first series win in Australia since 1979, a Champions Cup and PRO14 double with Leinster and now a first victory over New Zealand on Irish soil.

What more can he do to become Ireland's second winner after Keith Wood in 2001? The answer is: not much. And if Sexton doesn't win, it will be plainly wrong.

 Toner offers insight into new powerful mindset of Ireland squad

Whisper it quietly, but there has been a shift in the Irish players' mentality, which now has them in a place that no Irish team has ever been before.

When the All Blacks launched wave after wave of attacks in the dying stages on Saturday, memories of 2013 came flooding back, yet you never felt this team were going to succumb in the same manner. That positivity fed into the boisterous crowd which bellowed out a cacophony of noise to help drag jaded players over the line.

"I think the mentality going into this game was one of the best that we've had," Toner revealed. "I don't think that we were going to lose that game. What everyone was saying, what (Johnny) Sexto was driving, what Pete (O'Mahony) was driving, what (Rory) Besty was driving, I don't think anyone was going to give up anything."

Tactics talk: Stockdale try another classic Schmidt power play

Jacob Stockdale was modest in the extreme when asked to talk through his scintillating try that ultimately beat the All Blacks.

"I saw Ben Smith had come up on the edge to defend (Rory) Bestie and I saw the space in behind. It was a slightly different kick, a longer kick, to chase on to. I was just playing in the moment. I can't take too much of the credit. That was a training ground move and it paid off massively."

Joe Schmidt is renowned for keeping strike moves in cold storage and just as he did with CJ Stander's try in the Grand Slam decider at Twickenham, the Ireland head coach waited for the right moment to unleash a power play that will have been repeatedly practised during training last week.

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1 - It took a lot of mental strength for Stockdale to pull off the difficult chip because three minutes earlier the winger saw his attempted kick blocked down by Kieran Read. The All Blacks skipper then uncharacteristically knocked the ball on when normally he would have ran clear to score the decisive try. Small margins.

2 - Shortly after we can see how Ireland are set up off their lineout. Stockdale holds his width with Josh van der Flier and Stander acting as decoys. Also keep an eye on Garry Ringrose who is gesturing that he wants the ball. Instead, just as he was in that Stander try against England, Bundee Aki plays a key role in switching Johnny Sexton's pass back to Stockdale.

3 - The All Blacks defence is caught out by the switch play. The towering Brodie Retallick tries to block down Stockdale but this time he gets the kick spot on.

4 - As Stockdale explained, his man (Ben Smith) was preoccupied with Best, which opened up the space for the him to kick and chase into. Retallick is left behind, Stockdale gets a favourable bounce of the ball and from there the retreating defenders can't get back in time to stop Ireland scoring another unforgettable try.

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