Tuesday 16 October 2018

Alan Quinlan: This achievement surpasses the 2009 Grand Slam

James Ryan, left, with the Triple Crown trophy, and Dan Leavy of Ireland, with the Six Nations trophy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
James Ryan, left, with the Triple Crown trophy, and Dan Leavy of Ireland, with the Six Nations trophy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

We wondered where to turn after Argentina dumped us out of the World Cup, but the work that Joe Schmidt has done in building this level of strength in depth in the two-and-a-half years since has been nothing short of remarkable.

Injuries meant Ireland were stretched to the limit in that quarter-final in 2015, yet the feeling surrounding this group has never been as positive.

So much of that is down to the age profile of a lot of these guys, and they probably won't realise what they achieved at Twickenham until later on in their careers.

The Grand Slam in 2009 was an incredible achievement, but in my mind this tops it, simply because winning in Paris and London is so difficult.

It's staggering to think the likes of James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter and Joey Carbery have never lost in a green jersey.

The manner in which they have stepped up and performed at the highest level just goes to show the type of players they are - and the players they can become.

Garry Ringrose dives across Rob Kearney and England’s Anthony Watson to score Ireland’s first try as Mike Brown looks on. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose dives across Rob Kearney and England’s Anthony Watson to score Ireland’s first try as Mike Brown looks on. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The biggest thing that jumps out for me with this young crop is their fearlessness. They have a calmness about them that means they don't buckle when they are under pressure.

Watching them, you get the feeling that they have the ability to problem solve on the pitch, which is the hallmark of any great team.

A huge amount of that is down to Schmidt and his backroom teams. You cannot understate the value of a coach that makes you believe that you can win every time you step on to the field, if you get the process right.

Schmidt isn't one for taking the plaudits and that was noticeable again at the weekend. He produced another masterclass in getting his team ready enough to be that comfortable and controlled in everything they did.

The first-half performance was as good as we have seen from any Irish team. We expected an English backlash, but instead what we got was an Irish statement of intent.

It's not going to get any easier from here. Whenever any young players burst on to the scene and grab the attention of the rugby world, you certainly get more attention going forward.

That's the biggest challenge Ireland now face - not getting ahead of themselves. As the old adage goes, you learn the most from your defeats, but some of these players don't know what that feeling is.

They will eventually, and there is no doubt that the likes of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will fill them in on how to cope with that pressure. There will be days when things don't work out and how they react to that will be crucial.

In my opinion there has been some unfair questions about Ireland's style of play throughout the championship, which has frustrated me.

A lot of those critics who reckoned Ireland are not very attractive to watch surely raised a few eyebrows over the weekend, especially as we scored more tries than we have ever scored in a championship - 20 tries is a brilliant return at this level.

The efficiency of this team is so impressive and we should be appreciating that while everything is going so well, undoubtedly there are tough challenges ahead.

People question the value of summer tours when the Lions series is on, but we are seeing the results of the work that was done in America and Japan last year.

A lot can happen between now and the World Cup next year, but make no mistake about it, Schmidt is already thinking about Japan.

Ireland are in great shape, but things can change very quickly. You only have to look at England for evidence of that.

Under Schmidt, it's very difficult to imagine Ireland taking their eye off the ball. They must back up this outstanding achievement at the World Cup.

Nothing can take away from winning a Grand Slam, but the monkey is still on our back in terms of the World Cup.

We're still a year-and-a-half out from it, and this experience will be invaluable for an Ireland team who should now have realistic ambitions of competing for the greatest prize of all.

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