Monday 16 July 2018

Chariot on fire as uncompromising Ireland finish job

England 15 Ireland 24

Jacob Stockdale touches down Ireland’s third try. Photo: Getty Images
Jacob Stockdale touches down Ireland’s third try. Photo: Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

This was a performance to rival any other of the Joe Schmidt era. Ruthless, brave, uncompromising and utterly controlled; Ireland did not just win the title on Saturday, they plunged a major rival into crisis.

This was the second and third best teams in the world going head to head, the two teams who have won the last five instalments of this tournament between them.

For two years, Eddie Jones talked loudly about the All Blacks and zoning in on the World Cup as realistic contenders to win the lot. Quietly, Joe Schmidt has been building too and on St Patrick's Day his team delivered a statement.

It was impressively low on drama. Ireland have a habit of snuffing games out before they get going, striking for the first score and then keeping their noses in front.

Their habit of scoring tries in first-half injury time is a new one, but to do it in four successive games is quite something. To inflict that sort of psychological damage on an opponent as they head for the dressing-room is a useful tool to have.

The players are largely the same, but England are a pale shadow of the team that looked unbeatable until Ireland derailed them a year ago in Dublin.

Ireland's Garry Ringrose (centre) is tackled by England's Chris Robshaw (centre left) and Maro Itoje (right). Photo: PA
Ireland's Garry Ringrose (centre) is tackled by England's Chris Robshaw (centre left) and Maro Itoje (right). Photo: PA

That was the first of four defeats in a calendar year, with Ireland completing a 100pc record in the same period. Heady stuff.

They started like a train at Twickenham and led through Garry Ringrose after five minutes. Rob Kearney might have knocked Johnny Sexton's up and under on, but he got away with it and in doing so put enough pressure on Anthony Watson to force the ball loose and Ringrose pounced.

They had to endure long, difficult spells of pressure but Andy Farrell's defence held firm.

Other teams have presented them with more complicated defensive problems, but the tackles still needed to be made and Ireland fronted up. Iain Henderson, Dan Leavy, James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong put in monstrous shifts, Rory Best was everywhere on his most impressive outing of the tournament.

And as they absorbed the pressure from their hosts, they didn't forget to strike for themselves and when England's shocking discipline allowed them into position they made no mistake.

The second try was straight out of the Joe Schmidt play book, a cleverly constructed and highly complicated manoeuvre that had so many moving parts it could easily have gone wrong. It didn't.

Instead, Furlong's deft hands put Bundee Aki through a gap that Ireland's training-ground preparation had opened up. He released the ball at the last moment to the on-rushing CJ Stander and even with half of England hanging out of him there was no chance of stopping him.

Sexton converted to give his side a 14-0 lead, but then spent a spell off getting a head-check during the period Ireland lost Peter O'Mahony to the sin-bin after one maul infringement too many.

Ireland's number 8 Cj Stander (R) grounds the ball at the base of the post to score their second try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between England and Ireland at the Twickenham, west London, on March 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALLBEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's number 8 Cj Stander (R) grounds the ball at the base of the post to score their second try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between England and Ireland at the Twickenham, west London, on March 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALLBEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

The reigning champions were applying plenty of pressure and finally the dam burst and Elliot Daly touched down, yet with Joey Carbery steering the 14-man ship there was no panic and little cause for alarm.

Ireland kept the ball for long phases, managed the clock and got themselves to the stroke of half-time with the score still 14-5.

And then they did what they've been doing throughout this tournament and kept taking the game to England when the conservative call would have been to get the ball of the pitch and draw breath.

All season, Conor Murray has been working the short-side and when he broke left and fed Jacob Stockdale there didn't seem to be much room to manoeuvre.

The Ulster winger doesn't think twice in those scenarios though, his confidence is sky-high and every time he touches the ball he's thinking try. So, he chipped ahead and beat two English defenders to the ball, kneed it and then somehow beat it to the end line.

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

It emerged that Jones had asked that the in-goal areas be enlarged and Ireland's third try wouldn't have come about without that decision. Schmidt talked about needing a little luck in the build-up and he got some there.

They only scored three points from the boot of Conor Murray in the 40 minutes after half-time, but the result never really felt in doubt as the visitors repelled the English advances with some more stellar defensive work in the minutes after half-time.

Ireland lost Aki to injury, but Jordan Larmour did what the subs do in this squad and stepped in without fuss, almost scoring with a trademark outside break. Later, he admitted he probably should have put Earls over with a pass.

Ireland's CJ Stander (centre left) goes for the ball in the lineout. Photo: PA
Ireland's CJ Stander (centre left) goes for the ball in the lineout. Photo: PA

Murray took over the kicking and nailed a penalty to keep the scoreboard moving as the clock kept ticking and even Daly's second try couldn't stop the sense of inevitability about the result. It lacked the drama of the 2009 finale, but that made it all the more impressive.

England - A Watson (M Brown 33); J May, J Joseph (G Ford 56), B Te'o, E Daly; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (D Care 61); M Vunipola (J Marler 53), D Hartley (capt) (J George 58), K Sinckler (D Cole 53); M Itoje, G Kruis (J Launchbury71); C Robshaw, J Haskell, S Simmonds (S Simmonds 62).

Ireland - R Kearney; K Earls (K Marmion 74), G Ringrose, B Aki (J Larmour 56), J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 33-40, 67), C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath 51), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 65), T Furlong (A Porter 65); J Ryan (D Toner 67), I Henderson; P O'Mahony (J Murphy 74), D Leavy, CJ Stander.

Ref - A Gardner (Australia)

England's Elliot Daly (left) and Chris Robshaw (right) attempt to tackle Ireland's Jordan Larmour. Photo: PA
England's Elliot Daly (left) and Chris Robshaw (right) attempt to tackle Ireland's Jordan Larmour. Photo: PA

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