Sunday was an incredible day for Irish rugby and another tactical masterclass by Joe Schmidt’s charges, writes Bernard Jackman.
The home side may have lacked the power of their English counterparts but they made up for that with commitment, aggression, technique and incredible detail.
England’s win in Cardiff against the Welsh showed how strong Stuart Lancaster’s team were defensively if you try and keep the ball in hand.
One of Ireland’s strengths is our kicking game and more importantly our kick chase which is the best in world rugby. It was the perfect strategy to employ against the English given their areas of strength. We kicked the ball from hand 44 times over the 80 minutes. England’s back three struggled to deal with the majority of those kicks despite picking three players who are normally excellent under the high ball.
I heard a lot of pundits saying we have a great kicking and catching game because of our roots in GAA. While the background in Gaelic Games is a help I know that our players work harder in this area of the game than any other.
Joe Schmidt has put huge focus on the ‘hang time’ which his kickers get when they launch the ball. Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton in particular are able to combine excellent hang time with accuracy.
To beat us, England needed to get on top at the scrum and credit to all the Irish forwards who dominated them in this area.
Mike Ross, who came into this Championship out of form, has re-paid Joe Schmidt’s faith in him with three assured performances. Rory Best wasn’t at his best against the French and again answered his critics with a brilliant performance on Sunday.
Sexton brought the line up in defence every opportunity he could and it was remarkable how physical he was given his recent head injuries.
England struggled to adapt to the referee and their discipline let them down but they had an inexperienced team in particular across the back line. I would question Chris Robshaw’s decision to not go for posts at 6-3 but it was telling that at 19-6 they were happy to take the points as they were getting no change from Ireland’s defence.
Tommy O’Donnell was a late call up for Sean O’Brien in Rome and he fitted in seamlessly. Again on Sunday he was called open in the second quarter and finished the match with Ireland’s highest tackle count.
Likewise Jordi Murphy stepped into Jamie Heaslip’s boots and performed exceptionally well. The player that I feel has silenced the most doubters, however, is Simon Zebo.
People said he wasn’t a ‘Joe Schmidt’ type player, that he was too loose, and reckless. He has taken whatever advice that the Irish management have given and used it to become a better all round player. He hasn’t had many opportunities to show us how dangerous he is with ball in hand in open space but those opportunities will come. Now he is a real team player.
We have a down week to get bodies rested and ready for Wales in Cardiff on March 14. We have the beating of them but we will need to be even better than we were against England to do so.
Beat Wales and I can’t see Scotland stopping us winning a Grand Slam.
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