Sunday 16 December 2018

Province can ride wave of Irish success

Grand Slam glory can inspire Van Graan's side to seal big finish

Peter O’Mahony in action during Ireland’s victory against England. Photo: Reuters
Peter O’Mahony in action during Ireland’s victory against England. Photo: Reuters

David Wallace

Munster continue their Guinness PRO14 journey against Scarlets at Thomond Park tomorrow and the players are bound to have been boosted by what happened on St Patrick's Day.

You couldn't write the script, a big win over England, a Triple Crown and Grand Slam secured on the final day of a Six Nations Championship, when Ireland already had the tournament sown up.

JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty during Munster’s defeat by Edinburgh. Photo: Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty during Munster’s defeat by Edinburgh. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland obliterated England in the first half and they took their chances when they were on offer. Johnny Sexton's kick was right out of the top drawer and it may well have been the plan to target Anthony Watson early. 

I don't ever remember watching Ireland win so comfortably in Twickenham. England did get a late try to bring the deficit down slightly but Ireland never looked threatened in terms of losing. 

They were cruising at 21-5 up at half-time. Even with the possession and territory England had at certain stages, they couldn't find a way through. The Irish defence was incredible. It looked like they were keeping players out of the defensive rucks, so they could fan out and push forward subtly. They took the space away from England who were faced with a green wall.

Keith Earls' tackle on Elliot Daly typified everything Ireland did right in the game. At first you were wondering did Daly slip. But the timing was just brilliant and it showed the determination of Earlsy to get back. 

It's not the first time he has saved a try for Ireland this season. He has been an incredible performer but just seems to be getting better and better. He has arguably been Ireland's player of the championship and it's such a pity he could be out for a while now.

We are 18 months out from a World Cup now but Ireland are in a really good position. Fresh off the back of a Grand Slam, No 2 in the world and with the squad Ireland have, and the momentum you would hope they can keep building. 

Ireland face New Zealand in the November internationals again and that will be another major test. But with all of the younger players coming into the squad and even injury-wise, Ireland are in a really healthy place in terms of their strength in depth.

Standard You look at the centre and back-row, the guys who come in have all performed to a really high standard. 

Every guy that comes in knows his role just as much as the man he replaces. Obviously Joe Schmidt has done some astonishing work in terms of the plays that are there to open up the opposition too. They target the weaknesses and exploit them every time, like they did against England.

Ireland have been here before with the expectations rising ahead of a World Cup. But there are so many things that are going right in Irish Rugby. There are maybe one or two players that still need to be backed up. But Ireland have 18 months to do that, and it looks promising.

It's back to provincial action this weekend and Munster suffered a difficult defeat in Murrayfield last Friday. Munster were missing their international contingent but it was a good Edinburgh side that defeated them. 

Next up it doesn't get any easier against the side who beat Munster in the PRO12 final last season. Scarlets will come to Limerick looking to keep the pressure on Leinster at the top of Conference B. 

They are a real quality team and provide the perfect challenge for Munster heading into their crucial Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulon next week. It's the perfect time to get them and a win would raise the confidence levels massively. 

It's worrying to hear Tyler Bleyendaal going down with a neck injury again. But Ian Keatley has steered the ship for Munster through the majority of this season and will no doubt continue to do that over the coming weeks and months.

It's a blow to lose Duncan Williams too. He has provided so much experienced back-up at scrum-half. Munster will now be calling on James Hart to provide that service and he will be given more of an opportunity to shine throughout the rest of the campaign.

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