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Changes may have been forced upon us but showed depth that is now developing


Marmion: Exceptional performance. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Marmion: Exceptional performance. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Marmion: Exceptional performance. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Immense. That's the only word to describe Ireland on Saturday. Every single player was immense. After 30 minutes I genuinely didn't know how Jared Payne was going to carry on. He looked absolutely out on his feet. For him to return like that, in a game played at 100mph pace, was remarkable.

Johnny Sexton was just unbelievable. They targeted him, he kept bouncing back and then he held up those two mauls for turnovers at key times.

Luke Fitzgerald has backed former team-mate Johnny Sexton to start for the British & Irish Lions this summer after Ireland's 13-9 win over England in Dublin on Saturday.

You only had to look at Rory Best's face. He was battered and bruised, went off for a HIA and came back on. You could see that whatever the Irish players needed to do they were just going to do it.

Obviously there were late changes, yet the mentality of those replacements was amazing and every single player who came in added some value.

Peter O'Mahony proved once again just how much class he has. He could start any day, but Joe Schmidt is obviously looking for a certain balance in different games.

Even if Jamie Heaslip had played, or Sexton gone off, I believe we would still have won, because the want and the hunger was there.

I think the players were absolutely gutted after the Welsh game. They didn't really perform, yet could have won that match and then let it slip away.

Saturday was them showing what they're really capable of. I hate people saying 'oh, change them all' after one bad game. This was the players standing up and saying 'look, we are good enough'.

Kieran Marmion was exceptional. He's a snipey little thing and just fires the ball, but it was also about the intensity at the breakdown and the speed of the rucks, as well as the pass away. It was just ferocious.

Yes, there were errors, but we got momentum and quick ruck ball.

Eddie Jones said he could still be proud of his back-to-back title winners despite failing to break the world record for successive wins - and claimed the Aviva clash was akin to a World Cup final.

I'd predicted an Irish win because I never felt England were good enough to win a Grand Slam.

Consistency in five games is hard to produce. They looked sensational annihilating Scotland, but prior to that I didn't think there was anything special about them.

However, I did think their bench was stronger than ours. Eddie Jones seemed to lose the plot. He emptied the bench looking for answers, but England had none against that Irish defence.

It's great to finish second in the Six Nations and rank fourth in the world, but I'd imagine the players are still very frustrated. Consistency is hard to get and we need to find it.

I don't question anything Joe Schmidt does because he is such an astute coach, but he's probably been conservative in the amount of time given to bench players.

His hand was forced somewhat this time and the players who came on showed the depth that's developing.

Hopefully we'll see more of them getting game time in the Summer Tour to USA and Japan.

Record crowd and gutsy battle was ideal Six Nations finish ahead of Women's World Cup

The atmosphere in Donnybrook on Friday night was so electric that I was nearly annoyed to be doing co-commentary for RTE and not right down in the middle of it.

The scoreline (34-7) really didn't reflect Ireland's effort. It was their best performance this season: their set-piece was outstanding and they played with marvellous intensity.

We lost Claire Molloy and Nora Stapleton, but once England moved Amber Reed to 10 and got Emily Scarratt into the game, they were a different class and the big difference was the creativity of their backs.

Jenny Murphy played really well at centre, but we're just not opening up defences and still relying on our pack to do so much at the set-piece.

It's important now to try and develop further the skills and decision-making before this summer's World Cup. There's a lack of understanding for the game at times, but that comes with players who are relatively new to it.

Someone commented to me about the large number of men in the crowd on Friday. We used to play our Six Nations games in front of just family, friends and club-mates, but now women's rugby is growing a fan-base.

The highest crowd at a women's game here before this was around 4,000, so to get a record 6,103 in was brilliant - not just for the players, but for the development of the game.

Vying for a Grand Slam in the final game was a good way for Ireland to lead in to the World Cup, which we're hosting. It would be great for people to get behind that tournament now - and not just the Irish team - to maintain this positive growth.

Irish Independent