Ire­land con­quer Twick­en­ham to join Grand Slam im­mor­tals

Sch­midt’s men stand tall af­ter first-half blitz

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

Eng­land — Daly 2 tries, May try Ire­land — Rin­grose, Stander, Stock­dale try each; Mur­ray pen, Sex­ton 2 cons, Car­bery con

SHORTLY be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle in Twick­en­ham yes­ter­day you could have been for­given for think­ing that the fall­ing snow was in fact a shower of ticker tape. The score­line was likely to be amended — and in­deed it was — but the game was done. At half time with their team trail­ing 21-5 many of the Eng­land fans had re­signed them­selves to a bad fin­ish to an un­ex­pect­edly poor sea­son. So by the time Jonny May got over in the cor­ner they were al­ready ac­knowl­edg­ing the rar­ity of what had hap­pened here. Be­fore yes­ter­day only five teams had come to Twick­en­ham look­ing for clo­sure on a Grand Slam. And only one — France in 1982 — had been suc­cess­ful. That now reads six and two.

A crowd of 82,062 — some of them hav­ing trudged up from Chel­tenham, and more of them hav­ing made their way over on the morn­ing of the game — wit­nessed a de­cent game of rugby where Ire­land were al­ways the bet­ter side. And al­ways looked like they knew it.

It takes some­thing to go to this part of the world and wipe out a side who up un­til very re­cently reck­oned they were al­most on a par with the All Blacks. And it takes a bit more to win in cir­cum­stances where the team with vastly in­fe­rior re­sources, across the board, can look so as­sured. That is Joe Sch­midt’s great achieve­ment with this squad: they have rid­den their luck and coped with in­juries and never looked like they didn’t be­lieve it would work out in the end.

So when Pe­ter O’Ma­hony was binned in the sec­ond half and Eng­land took full ad­van­tage with a try for El­liot Daly, there was no panic. Five min­utes ear­lier they had stretched out to 24-5 with a Conor Mur­ray penalty so there was no sign of panic. And when Eng­land badly mis­man­aged the pe­riod in which O’Ma­hony was off, it was hard to see how the away side could be over­taken.

Lead­ers? The spine of their side, which has re­mained al­most un­touched through the cam­paign, was out­stand­ing, start­ing with Rob Kear­ney at full-back and run­ning through to CJ Stander at num­ber eight. Around that quin­tet you could not find a player who didn’t front up phys­i­cally or not de­liver on the minu­tiae of his role. It wasn’t sexy, but it was com­pre­hen­sive. And the de­fen­sive re­solve was mas­sive.

In the cir­cum­stances a good start car­ried even more im­por­tance for Ire­land given where each team was com­ing from. Eng­land were a bit frag­ile af­ter what hap­pened them in Ed­in­burgh and Paris, while Ire­land, as their cap­tain Rory Best con­ceded in the run-up, were ner­vous about the scale of the task.

In any case it man­i­fested it­self in poor dis­ci­pline from the home team. They had con­ceded one penalty fewer than Ire­land by the break (that mar­gin was the same at the fin­ish) but that was largely down to a back-ped­alling run where Ire­land ran up four in a row with O’Ma­hony pay­ing the price as they tried to keep Eng­land out.

Five times in all Eng­land went to touch with penal­ties that could have got them on the board. By the time they did get there, on 32 min­utes, Ire­land al­ready were 14-0 in front. And even with Daly’s touch­down Ire­land would score again for a 21-5 lead at the turnover.

The first 14 points came in in­stal­ments on six and 24 min­utes. For the first Garry Rin­grose, whose step­ping al­ways gained him a me­tre or two, got his hand to a ball that ran loose in Eng­land’s in-goal af­ter An­thony Wat­son had spilled a Johnny Sex­ton gar­ry­owen un­der pres­sure from Kear­ney.

For the sec­ond Stander scored off the foot of the post af­ter a clas­sic Sch­midt strike play: O’Ma­hony de­liv­ered very well off a four-man li­ne­out; they ran a wrap in mid­field with Bundee Aki tak­ing a blind-side pop from Tadhg Fur­long, and pick­ing up Stander in sup­port.

And the third? Would you be­lieve it was the try-scor­ing ma­chine that is Ja­cob Stock­dale. In­ter­est­ingly this sev­enth try of the cam­paign, a Six Na­tions record, was fa­cil­i­tated by what ap­peared to be an ex­tended in-goal area, putting it into same gen­eral di­men­sion as Mur­ray­field, which is enor­mous. Stock­dale did well not to knock it on as he chased the spillage from an­other aerial con­test that had gone Ire­land’s way. So with Ire­land 100 per cent out of touch — the li­ne­out qual­ity wasn’t al­ways first class — and at the scrum, the only real con­cern was the health of Sex­ton.

He went off for a HIA six min­utes be­fore the break, and while he re­turned for the sec­ond half he clearly had an is­sue with goal-kick­ing, need­ing Mur­ray to nail that shot on the hour mark. By then, how­ever, there were play­ers all over the field putting their hands up look­ing for work. Fre­quently Iain Hen­der­son had his hand high­est. He had an im­mense game.

So too did Aki, who was for­tu­nate to con­cede only a penalty for a high shot on Daly, and his de­par­ture — he looked in a heap — robbed Ire­land of a go-to man in the gain-line bat­tle. The game fin­ished with re­place­ment scrum-half Kieran Marmion on the wing as the in­jury toll slowed Ire­land to a can­ter, but even then they didn’t lose com­po­sure. Keep­ing Eng­land out un­til time added on was an achieve­ment in it­self. It’s rarely you see play­ers con­grat­u­lat­ing each other af­ter a try has just been con­ceded, as it was with May’s score on 83 min­utes.

The job was done. It was a typ­i­cally res­o­lute fin­ish to a re­mark­able cam­paign. They will take a while to re­cover. Eng­land: A Wat­son (M Brown 33); J May, J Joseph (G Ford 56), B Te’o, E Daly; O Far­rell, R Wig­glesworth (D Care 68); M Vu­nipola (J Mar­ler 53), D Hart­ley (capt) (J George 58), K Sinck­ler (D Cole 53), M Itoje, G Kruis, C Rob­shaw, S Sim­monds (D Ar­mand 67), J Haskell.

Ire­land: R Kear­ney; K Earls (K Marmion 74), G Rin­grose, B Aki (J Lar­mour 56), J Stock­dale; J Sex­ton (J Car­bery HIA 34-40; 67), C Mur­ray; C Healy (J McGrath 51), R Best (S Cronin 65), T Fur­long (A Porter 64), J Ryan (D Toner 66), I Hen­der­son, P O’Ma­hony (yc 29-39; J Mur­phy 74)), CJ Stander, D Leavy.

Ref­eree: A Gard­ner (Aus­tralia)

Photo: Lau­rence Grif­fiths

CJ Stander touches the base of the up­right to score Ire­land’s sec­ond try in the win over Eng­land at Twick­en­ham yes­ter­day.

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