With a third Six Nations Championship in five seasons already safely tucked away, Ireland head for Twickenham on Saturday without the requirement for any added extras.
With the championship decided, points differential, number of tries scored or bonus points of any persuasion no longer enter the equation.
Without complications, Ireland’s mission is clear.
This Irish squad travel in the clear knowledge that a win of any description comes with the added value of a rare Grand Slam which, to date, has been achieved by just two teams in Irish rugby history.
Ireland has never won a Grand Slam at Twickenham but you can be absolutely sure, especially as this Irish team denied England their Slam moment in Dublin in the corresponding fixture last season, the hosts will do everything in their power to derail the St Patrick’s day party.
By failing to match Ireland’s five point haul in Dublin earlier in the day, England not only relinquished the two-year stranglehold they had on the championship in Paris but lost a second game on the bounce having tasted defeat just once in the Eddie Jones era prior to the Murrayfield debacle last time out.
France were good value for their win and, incredibly, England are now staring down the barrel of three defeats in a row and a first ever defeat at Twickenham under Jones.
This is an extraordinary Irish side in that they have delivered a championship with a game to spare, have secured 19 out of the possible 20 points on offer, yet it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that they have still to hit peak form.
That was certainly the case heading to the dressing room at the break on Saturday, 11 points ahead of a Scottish side that were left scratching their heads at the margin having outplayed Ireland for large parts of the game.
The quality of the Scottish defensive effort and their refusal to allow Ireland’s big ball carrier’s such as CJ Stander, Cain Healy, Peter O’Mahony and James Ryan generate the type of momentum that normally translates into double digit phases had presented problems for Joe Schmidt’s charges.
However, as always, they found a way to subdue the opposition. That is what stands out about this Irish team. They must be a nightmare to play against. When you think you have them in a stranglehold, they find a way to punish you.
For this Scottish side, especially playing away from home, much boils down to how they negotiate the opening quarter of the game. They have to start well. Far too often, that is the period when their vulnerability becomes apparent — think Cardiff last month and Twickenham last season.
When Scotland have to chase a game, they struggle badly. Hence the desire from Ireland to dominate the early exchanges, get their multi-phase game up and running, deny Scotland any semblance of possession to ease their way into the tie. That didn’t materalise.
Brian O’Driscoll’s assertion during the week that this Scottish side, despite that excellent win over England in Edinburgh, would not be respected until they delivered similar performances and results away from Murrayfield was fair comment.
Their miserable record on the road in this tournament has been well documented. That is why Gregor Townsend’s decision not to have his captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium last Friday — they went through their paces at Murrayfield instead — was a little strange.
Even more so given that their enigmatic playmaker Finn Russell had never played at the Aviva before. Out-half’s like to familiarise themselves with their surroundings, to find their bearings on the wide expanses of international stadia. Russell’s efforts in doing so were confined solely to the pre-match warm up.
How big a factor would that prove? Not overly significant given the way Scotland played early on.
The big difference between the tteams is that when Ireland generate scoring opportunities, they normally convert them.
Having done all the hard work, inexcusably, Scotland somehow conspired to butcher three gilt-edge try scoring chances.
Scotland were confident on the ball early on, led 0-3 after 20 minutes and were comfortable before hitting the self-destruct button over a seven minute spell when they gifted Ireland an intercept try and failed to finish off a chance themselves.
Having opened up the Irish defense with a moment of magic, the impressive Huw Jones failed miserably when it came to delivering a scoring pass off his left hand to put Stuart Hogg under the Irish posts.
That is the type of opportunity New Zealand convert every time. Hogg himself was guilty of the same crime in the second half.
Ireland’s interval lead, despite the failure of their attack to spark, was cruel on Scotland. Then again, as has been the case on so many of their defeats away from home, the visitors were the architects of their own downfall.
Losing the impressive Ryan Wilson to injury after 19 minutes didn’t help their cause much either.
Ireland’s two first-half tries resulted directly from Scottish errors. The first from the intercept (as I predicted on these pages last Saturday) was almost certain to materialise as a consequence of Scotland’s — in particular Finn Russell’s — insistence on chasing the miracle pass.
On this occasion the culprit was Peter Horne when he gift-wrapped a try for new scoring sensation Jacob Stockdale. The big Ulster man had his homework done and picked off the long looping pass from Horne with consummate ease.
Stockdale’s killer second try right on the stroke of half-time resulted from an overthrow at a Scottish line out which was punished with the ruthlessness of champions. Ireland bide their time, refuse to panic and wait for opportunities to present themselves be it from their own creation or from opposition mistakes.
Scotland, despite defending really well and looking very dangerous in attack, just couldn’t avoid gifting Ireland opportunities to launch their clinical line out maul either.
Having adopted a clear policy of not kicking the ball dead to offer Ireland line out throws, they conceded too many penalties that, more often than not, Johnny Sexton choose to kick to the corner rather than at goal.
When Conor Murray scored Ireland’s third try off one such effort to extend the lead to 18 points seven minutes after the break it was game over.
Sean Cronin’s bonus point try off another line out maul not only closed the door on the Scots but left England with a monumental task at the Stade de France, one that proved beyond them.
Despite the feeling that there is even more in this Irish side, the thing that will please Schmidt most is the contribution made by players drafted into the side due primarily to injury.
On Saturday, it was Gary Ringrose’s turn to answer Ireland’s call after injuries claimed Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell.
Just as Farrell delivered a man of the match performance in Henshaw’s absence when the need was greatest, Ringrose was equally as effective on Saturday, despite playing only 57 minutes of rugby since January 6.
All roads now lead to Twickenham. Nine years on from that memorable Grand Slam clinching victory over Wales in a cliffhanger in Cardiff, Rob Kearney and Rory Best stand on the precipice of a special achievement.
No other player in Irish rugby history has been part of two Grand Slam winning sides.
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