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Ireland stand tall and now players issue warning that they cannot stand still


Ireland's Jack Conan dives over to score his side's second try during the Guinness Six Nations victory over England at Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Jack Conan dives over to score his side's second try during the Guinness Six Nations victory over England at Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

josh van der flier

josh van der flier


Ireland's Jack Conan dives over to score his side's second try during the Guinness Six Nations victory over England at Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland may have no idea where the next performance is coming from. Quite literally, in fact.

Suppositions still swirl but a second summer tour cancellation seems inevitable and so, after waiting so long to produce a signature performance, Andy Farrell’s side face a maddening moratorium to find out whether they have finally unearthed their true selves.

And also, having belatedly done so, whether they can maintain such an appearance of cohesion if a summer programme can be cobbled together, minus a presumably now enlarged presence in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad. Ireland certainly stood tall on Saturday.

From now on, they cannot afford to stand still.

Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan would not have started against England were rivals available; but they did so and in conjunction with a statement performance from their country.

Neither man took a backward step; indeed, Conan was a central component of his side’s attacking verve.

Van der Flier, too, certainly ripped it up, literally so when thieving Billy Vunipola in the second half; it may not have had defining value in the game, as Ireland’s dominance had by then been firmly rooted.

But it did vividly illustrate a definitive shift in Irish performance. “I suppose it’s something you work on, someone else goes low and I saw the opportunity there to go for the ball,” he says, a smile creasing a pock-marked face betraying the signs of a war successfully waged and his confrontation with the beastly behemoth.

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“There’s a bit of luck to it there sometimes when to get a hold of them quite high, near to the ball and the ball can sit in your hands quite nicely.”

The real turning point after 10 minutes was the scrum turnover deep in their own territory as England sniffed a 10-point lead and, from there, Ireland established the intellectual and physical superiority which would hold sway. “They came at us pretty hard and we made a few mistakes early on which gave them a couple of kicks,” adds van der Flier. “That was obviously not part of the plan.

“But we fought well, we did stay composed and we were able to keep going back at them. And that was very pleasing.”

Ireland were not responding merely to England’s fleeting threat but also their own diffidence in an inconsistent campaign, which had raised eyebrows amongst their own supporters.

“I don’t want to be too controversial about it but we trust our own ability and we know what we are about,” says Conan, now perhaps primed for a sustained run in green given Caelan Doris’ lengthy absence and CJ Stander’s retirement.

“I know there’s been a lot of harsh critics out there, people criticising us saying we haven’t been playing a whole lot.

“But we were confident in our own ability and we knew what we could do and it was just a case of going out there and showing that.

“People were aware of the criticism but I don’t think we listened to it too much because we knew we could go out there and put those scores on the pitch.

“It was just about execution. International rugby is about the one or two per centers. It doesn’t always work out but we knew we had it in the locker so it was (our job) to go out there and show it today.”

Van der Flier honestly assesses the challenge that now awaits his side as they seek to ensure this championship conclusion does not represent a punctuation mark, rather the beginning of something a bit more substantial.

“That is the big challenge, isn’t it? It was a very good performance, we were pretty pleased with it. There are things to improve on.

“We can’t just say we just need to replicate that every game, we need to keep improving areas.

“There are things we could have done better in, I suppose on other days, you don’t get the bounce of the ball or decisions don’t quite go your way.

“So we have to be able to do it on those days as well.

“We can take confidence from that, we know that we can put in that performance now based on what we did during the week and how we then managed to get it right.

“The next match we have we will be training and building towards a weekend and knowing that there is no reason we shouldn’t perform like we did the last time we played.

“We don’t want to be a team that, maybe in the past, would be guilty of having a huge performance and then not back it up consistently.

“That is something this side really wants to bring.

“I think we started that today and will try and back it up next time around,” he added.

That was captain Jonathan Sexton’s primary message to the players on the pitch after the final whistle.

Enjoy the moment but demand many more.

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