This Grand Slam is the start of something very exciting, writes Stephen Ferris.
The result almost felt inevitable before kick-off.
England knew what was coming but maybe they were psyched out in the run-up to the game with the thought of the hordes of Irish arriving down from Cheltenham full of yeast and the infamous Eddie Jones quotes etched on their own minds.
I was sitting among England fans and they were more or less beaten before the first whistle went.
When Owen Farrell gave away that penalty on three minutes with a late tackle on Rob Kearney, and Ireland went seven points up a few minutes later, I knew that we were home and hosed. It felt like that around the stadium, the England support was deflated, while the Irish just ramped everything up further. But that little incident in the opening minutes really summed England up.
The job still had to be done though, and Ireland did it with such aplomb. They were so clinical. They took everything with both hands. It was brilliant to watch an Ireland performance that was intense, accurate and tinged with a killer instinct. Ireland just had full control and their discipline was superb.
What took England further into a cul de sac was that little period which ended with a Dylan Hartley overthrow in the 29th minute. It was a real pivotal moment. The way the game was flowing, it was the perfect opportunity for England to get back into the game. Ireland had been under the cosh for six or seven minutes on their own line with the ball hitting Otoje and the England pack driving; a couple of penalties, O’Mahony collects a yellow, then that overthrow at the tail and Ireland winning the ball back. Disaster for England!
That incident gave Ireland more life. But really they just went about their jobs, didn’t do anything stupid. But that moment showed this was an out-of-sorts England. I wouldn’t say that they were in panic mode, but they looked short in confidence, unlike Ireland, who even if they made a mistake or two, or spluttered now and again, were like a well-oiled machine with all components chattering in harmony.
It felt, at times, they could have found another gear if needed. And hopefully they will find that gear over the next 18 months or so leading up to the World Cup in Japan. Ireland are now the second-best team in the world rankings, having overtaken England who are now under serious pressure following three defeats in a row and facing a tough series in South Africa in the summer.
For Ireland, everything appears rosy. Even if Joe Schmidt took a B team to Australia in the summer and lost all three Tests, it wouldn’t matter too much, while for Jones it is completely the opposite scenario.
Ireland have such a big young talented squad of players now.
Take Jacob Stockdale, who’s filling the boots of 2009 Grand Slam hero Tommy Bowe, who scored an unbelievable try that day at the Millennium Stadium. What’s more, I believe Jacob can sing better! He might not have had his best game on Saturday, but as he has done all season, when presented with an opportunity, boy, did he take it.
That’s how Joe Schmidt likes his team to operate; when you get a sniff, take it!
Tadhg Furlong was named man of the match, CJ Stander was the choice around me, but there were at least seven or eight lads who you could have given that accolade to. Everybody played so well. Ireland are now a team that doesn’t need a second chance. When they have to roll up the sleeves, they don’t hang about. Yes they may splutter at times along the way, but they are so clinical now. I think it is a bigger feat than in 2009 just in the way the games have fallen.
We sensed that once that defining moment of the tournament - Jonny Sexton’s drop goal - soared over in Paris, it was all going down to the last at Twickenham. But it wasn’t just that Sexton drop goal, it was how it was achieved that puts the Ireland team into perspective at present.
It was the restart gather from a ‘22’ by Iain Henderson, the 41 phases, the cross-field kick to Keith Earls, all that just sums Ireland up at the present time.
It’s just a good young squad, a brilliantly coached squad, a team that is full of belief.
I actually believe that this is the start of something that will last over the next three or four years and everyone will be proud of. Foundations have been put in place, and not just the Grand Slam
Ireland will be judged on how they do in the 2019 World Cup and this Grand Slam for me is the start of something very exciting.
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