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In their best performance since 2018, Ireland rediscovered a precious quality we thought they had lost

Roy Curtis


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Ireland rediscovered their 'bite' against Wales, writes Roy Curtis. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland rediscovered their 'bite' against Wales, writes Roy Curtis. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland rediscovered their 'bite' against Wales, writes Roy Curtis. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

JORDAN Larmour moves with such willowy, balletic grace that it is possible to imagine him sashaying across a snow-covered meadow without leaving a single footprint.

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On an afternoon of impressive redemption for Ireland, a belligerent, defiant, clinical masterclass that muted the recent intense fretting about the team’s well-being, it was Leinster’s Lord of the Dance who most electrified the Aviva.

Larmour is an aesthetic miracle, his trademark moments of sublime individual expression that so powerfully animate the spirit of his mesmerized audience.

His remarkable gift is an ability to identify and exploit microscopic spaces in rush-hour traffic, to jitterbug through the most claustrophobic, suffocating tunnels as if strolling the beach of an otherwise uninhabited desert island.

Ireland’s back-row was simply sensational here: CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier combining pit-bull belligerence with Purple Heart fortitude.

If Stander was an unstoppable ball-carrier against the Scots, here he was a relentless kleptomaniac, repeatedly stealing, not just the ball, but thieving Wales of belief.

Back-to-back Man of the Match gongs is a stunning rebuke to those who insisted that, post-World Cup, his international career might be hanging by the flimsiest of threads.

There was an impressive unity of purpose to Ireland’s play, as they slammed one door after another shut on the Grand Slam champions, a powerful force from the Valleys who came within inches of a World Cup final appearance.

Conor Murray travelled back in time, somewhere close to the heights of 2018, when he could legitimately claim to be a scrum-half without an equal anywhere on the planet.

Andrew Conway, even before clinching the bonus-point fourth try five minutes from time, was a magnificent, menacing triumph of efficiency.

Robbie Henshaw was a pugnacious battering ram for the 45 minutes he prowled the battlefield, Johnny Sexton was the imperious conductor as Ireland rediscovered a rhythm many feared lost and gone forever.

But it was Larmour, as only the truly special talents can, who sprinkled a storm-tossed afternoon with magical stardust.

The buzz that rises up around an arena each time he receives possession will be familiar to those who have been at the Camp Nou when the ball lands at Lionel Messi’s feet: The same heart-soaring expectation that something unforgettable might shortly unfold.

His keynote moment here, delivering Ireland’s first try at the conclusion of a first quarter which they had dominated without putting scores on the board, was an authentic work of art.

It was a glorious exhibition of footwork and power, a beautiful tapestry of imagination, balance, fearlessness and unstoppable leg-drive.

When Larmour took possession, inside the Welsh 22 to the right of the posts, an apparently unbreakable, five-man crimson barrier blocked his passage to deliverance.

It was the sort of forbidding, thou-shalt-not-pass wall of which Donald Trump would heartily approve.

But in Larmour’s eyes, it was no more threatening than a red carpet, an invitation to paradise.

He dropped a shoulder, he contorted and changed direction, a beautifully balanced antelope unconcerned by the salivating jungle cats clawing forlornly at thin air.

Welsh arms were still thrashing futilely as Larmour touched down to initiate an afternoon of thrilling rebirth.

As the afternoon developed, as the tension gave way to exhilaration, the Aviva crowd was introduced to a long-lost stranger: The animated, intense, striving for the stars Irish team of 2018.

In the final quarter, Ireland impressively absorbed pressure. And suddenly, they are two-thirds of the way to a Triple Crown. Twickenham in a fortnight beckons.

If this was not perfect, the transformation in mood and momentum over 80 minutes can hardly be overstated

Even in victory last week, Ireland could not silence concerns that here was a team falling apart before our eyes.

Along with fears of an irreversible decline came a sense that the old belligerence that made Ireland such an uncomfortable opponent in 2018– no less a figure than Brian O’Driscoll this week bemoaned the absence of Wdog" – had drained away.

Those worries were obliterated in Ireland’s finest afternoon since the victory over New Zealand 13 months ago.

The loss of artistic merit that had accompanied Ireland’s tumble from the stars brought a haunting concern in advance of what felt like a defining day in this team’s story.

Tony Ward, that sleek playmaking stylist of yesteryear, dismissed Ireland’s box-kicking obsession as a "caveman" tactic. Matt Williams was equally scathing, describing the barrage of Conor Murray aerial bombs as "mind-numbing."

Here, though, from the moment Josh van der Flier pounced on Dan Biggar to force a first-minute five-metre scrum, Ireland offered ferocity of intent.

All the fretting about an Irish decline ebbed away as Ireland’s aggressive tempo, and their unity of will splintered Welsh nerve.

Stander’s turnovers, O’Mahony driving Tadhg Furlong over for Ireland’s second try, Sexton providing the moral leadership the team has been seeking for more than a year.

Conway and Jacob Stockdale oozed menace and a sense of adventure out wide.

Murray, the old world-class zip restored to his passing, box-kicked just once in the opening 40 as Ireland sought out the Welsh jugular with the longing of a Transylvanian vampire.

The man who made a feral afternoon glow most fiercely was Larmour.

He might not leave a footprint in snow, but, on an afternoon of impressive, uplifting redemption, he singed his initials deep into the Aviva turf.

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