Ireland Grand Slam Champions: Reflections

The Natwest 6 Nations tournament is in the books. A highly impressive Ireland performance securing a 24-15 victory over an English side who were kept at arms length throughout. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the success for the new Natwest 6 Nations champions.

Defining Ireland Performance?

Ireland’s performance at Twickenham personally was a defining moment for the national side. This was a controlled, clinical performance where the players executed the coaching game plan to the letter of the law.

The coaching mismatches were evident as early as six minutes into this contest. Ireland identifying Watson’s vulnerabilities under the high ball with Sexton executing the aerial bomb on point. The chase from Rob Kearney to disrupt in that aerial challenge, coupled with Ringrose’s support running to Kearney if the ball went loose was sublime.

The clinical nature in which Ireland set out about exposing England’s defensive gaps was astounding. The move to open up England for the second try was sensational. The roles of Sexton, Furlong, Aki to Stander who crashed over. Simmonds exposed badly in the England defensive line as Bundee Aki carved out a massive hole in the England defense.

England may have thought that the Ireland attacking threat was done for the opening period when the impressive Sexton went off for a blood substitution. Think again. Murray identifying slack defense in the England ranks allowing the try scoring machine Jacob Stockdale to create; nice kick over the top exposing Brown and May defensively to score the decisive third try before the interval.

The second half may have seen a reduced possession count for Ireland but the visitors were still dangerous with ball in hand. The fact that Ireland consolidated rather than hit the line for attacking line outs spoke volumes. Murray kicking on point as Ireland hit 24 points; now was time to soak up England pressure and close out the contest. Mission accomplished.

Ireland performances in the past would have being error strewn, nervy at times, winning a cliffhanger to secure the win but this was a calm, collected performance from Ireland. The performance level at Twickenham from Ireland is the blueprint going forward. All players were on point. Kudos to the back row, they dominated the open and breakdown exchanges which then saw England lose discipline thereafter.

Leavy, O’Mahony and Stander deserve huge credit for the work rate, ball carries and defensive work against England. The front five fronted up superbly as well against a lively opposition pack. Henderson’s selection was truly merited with a performance full of work rate, ball carrying and game management of the line out. James Ryan was outstanding; ball carrying and set piece execution on point. The front row continued to probe England in the scrum and work rate around the fringes was on point. Best in clear out work exceptional.

Ireland Squad Depth Identified

This was a challenging Natwest 6 Nations tournament for many teams due to injuries to several standout players. Ireland were no exception. When you consider the opening round of the tournament, Ireland were on the brink.

Teddy Thomas’ try had given the edge to France; more late heartbreak for Ireland to contend with but the team have shown incredible resiliency. 41 phases! 41 phases of hard work, fronting up, looking to break a resolute French gain line. The Sexton diagonal kick to Earls. Henderson’s ball carry making a couple more precious meters. Sexton drop goal. We know the rest! The momentum machine was now on overdrive.

Ireland squad injuries has created interesting test match selections and also provided key indications to the neutral whether Ireland have the squad depth. The answer with respect to the personnel drafted to the front row, second row, three quarters is an emphatic yes.

Andrew Porter’s cameo against Italy and Wales. James Ryan coming into the side to replace Donnacha Ryan. Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier provided quality support in the seven position along with Jack Conan at the eight channel. Sean O’Brien’s absence, a worry coming into this tournament negated well.

The thirteen channel was a source of injury woe throughout the tournament. Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell and Gary Ringrose all played massive parts to this side. Henshaw had an encouraging start to the tournament; his try showed his potential with ball in hand but then injury struck. Farrell then was summoned to fill the breach and what a contribution against Wales. Man of the match. Physically imposing, prominent in ball carries and game management but then injury struck again. Enter Ringrose who gave Huw Jones the run around in round four and then provided assured gain line breaks and the pivotal opening try against England.

Ireland Squad Depth Concerns?

At the start of the tournament, I questioned the squad depth of this side. Suffice to say that the injuries have helped answer this question in certain units. The nine and ten jersey are areas where squad depth is not yet fully determined.

Marmion played his part as the backup to the imperious Conor Murray; it was a shame that Luke McGrath was not able to play more game minutes as well.  Will John Cooney get an opportunity to impress after a promising Ulster debut season?

The ten jersey belongs to Sexton but we need to see the backup in this position during the Australian tour. Joey Carbery is the designate backup and should feature against Australia.

Can we determine a third option at the fly-half position? With Paddy Jackson currently in legal proceedings, other options need to be explored and assessed. Carty, Hanrahan, Keatley come into the mix. Tyler Bleyendaal’s injury woes continue. Does Rory Scannell come into the mix as an utility ten?

Key positions for Ireland ahead of the RWC 2019 to determine squad depth. Ireland’s fulcrum is Murray and Sexton and contingency is required in these positions if 2015 RWC injury crisis hits in the half-backs.