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Stockdale clincher keeps dream alive for Schmidt

Jacob Stockdale celebrates after scoring Ireland’s fifth try during the Six Nations victory over Wales yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald
Jacob Stockdale celebrates after scoring Ireland’s fifth try during the Six Nations victory over Wales yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland's Grand Slam train is still running despite a close-run thing with Wales at Lansdowne Road yesterday. Joe Schmidt's side blew their opponents off the park in the battle for territory and possession, but it took a second try from Jacob Stockdale - his eighth in seven Tests - to make the game safe, and seal a 37-27 win.

Ireland are now the only team chasing the Grand Slam after Scotland's shock 12-point win over England in Murrayfield blew the Championship wide open.

With a weekend off before a revitalised Scottish side comes to Dublin in the penultimate round, Schmidt's injury toll is easing. Johnny Sexton got a knee in the glute - which saw Conor Murray take over the kicking duties late in the day - while Murray hurt his knee (he finished the game) and Keith Earls went off with cramp in his calf. All are expected to be fit for the Scotland game.

And Seán O'Brien might be back in the frame for that game along with Garry Ringrose, who came through successfully from Leinster's landslide win over the Southern Kings in the RDS on Friday night. Schmidt will also have hamstring victims Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong available.

So that leaves Ireland's approach to be decided on, for it was so blunt yesterday it drew dripping sarcasm from Warren Gatland after a defeat that ends his team's chase for the Championship.

"I thought they were outstanding," he said of Ireland. "I have to apologise to Joe if I upset him a couple of years ago by being critical of the way that they played. I thought they moved the ball brilliantly well and they were so exciting in the way that they played today. I thought they were really good. All credit to Joe and the team. They're definitely going in the right direction."

Schmidt's response suggested he gets on better with Gatland's assistant Rob Howley, whom he described as "a top man and a really good coach".

As for his own policy, the Ireland coach said: "Other people make assessments, I wouldn't say I look as much at the performance of our opponents once game is done."

In a results-based business, clearly Schmidt is ahead of the curve, but the one-track approach of yesterday will be hard to sustain over another two games in three weeks.

Asked if the Ireland squad can keep any Grand Slam talk at bay, Schmidt said: "It's a lot easier for us than it is externally because we do live in a bit of a bubble through the championship."

In Chris Farrell, however, he has a player who can mix it up either way. On a day when Johnny Sexton was outstanding, despite missing four of seven shots on goal, Farrell was the clear candidate for man of the match. With Ringrose fit again this eases the pain of coping without Robbie Henshaw.

"The biggest thing, and the thing that sometimes you don't see, when you're lining up as a forward outside Johnny, you can hear him," captain Rory Best said of Farrell.

"He's always talking, always giving you options. Sometimes you can play them, sometimes it makes the defence a little softer to go through because he is an option out the back. It's probably one of the most impressive things about him. From his time in Ulster, I know how big he is, how big a carrier he is and how good his hands are, but his communication out there was superb."

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