Ireland’s 24-15 victory over England on Saturday confirmed Ireland’s third grand slam in history. Joe Schimdt’s side has won 3 of the last 5 Six Nations’ and the future only looks bright for the boys in green.
English woes need to be healed
Before the tournament, the hype was all around England being world beaters and setting up a match against New Zealand. However, Eddie Jones’ men simply didn’t perform to a standard anywhere near what they were expected. They were well beaten by Scotland, France and Ireland and just sneaked past the Welsh. A very disappointing campaign for the so-called favourites of the competition. Whilst it’s plain to see the players didn’t perform to the level they should’ve, Eddie Jones must take a portion of the blame. His intense training to his stern words for rivals teams and players have played a part in England’s failure over the campaign. From getting involved trying to put down Finn Russell before the Scotland game, to calling the Irish “scummy”, it has distracted his players on the pitch, and also made him look out of touch at times. When you look at Joe Schmidt, this sort of off the field riling of the opponents doesn’t happen. He stays focused on the matter at hand on the training ground and the pitch.
Ireland’s set plays are part of their huge success. Having the 9-10 axis of Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton is a key part to the Irish game. The two of them together is arguably the best most cohesive halfback pairing in all of world rugby at present and it shows in their play together.
Tadhg Furlong: The graceful wrecking ball pic.twitter.com/OzEWwPUkJz
— Conán Doherty (@ConanDoherty) March 17, 2018
This set play can be seen as the most outstanding play of this year’s tournament. The way in which Tadhg Furlong is utilised in the move shows just the brilliance of Schmidt’s coaching and attention to detail. To have a prop involved in a delicate set move in that way exemplifies the Irish approach to the game. The play is execute to perfection, and with just the smallest gap in the English defence, Ireland break through and score through CJ Stander.
A lot has been made of central contracting in Rugby, but it can’t be argued that it is beginning to have a huge affect on International rugby. The top two sides in this year’s competition both are predominantly made up of centrally contracted players. The concept behind it is that it gives the nations the control over the player, rather than the clubs. This means that the nations can decide if they want a player to be rested in the run up to a big international game, whereas in the English model, where the clubs hold all of the power, players are playing week in week out with very little rest periods. This showed in England’s performance, they looked a little slow, lethargic and lacked creativity. In the case of players like Maro Itoje, he looked a shadow of his former self and completely off of the pace. Compare his performance to the player he was when he won European Player of the Year at the age of 21. He has been a constant for Saracens over the past 2/3 years, but this combined with a Lions tour too, just seems to much without a proper break period like those on central contracts for Ireland and Wales have. However, due to the way the Premiership is, it is unlikely to see any form of central contracting from the RFU in the coming years.
Ireland’s Future Stars Shine Bright
Jacob Stockdale was the breakthrough star of this Six Nations, breaking the tournament record for the most tries with 7. To beat the likes of Chris Ashton, Shane Williams and Will Greenwood in your first tournament is some going! The future is only getting better for the Irish side, with the likes of Stockdale, Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour all coming through and looking to cement their places in the coming years.
With the World Cup in Japan just over 18 months away, Ireland are hitting their best form at the right time and Joe Schmidt’s side will be keen to go into the tournament in the best form they can as another clash with New Zealand is a exciting prospect. The way in which the Irish beat the Kiwi’s in Chicago two years ago shows they can do it, and that will give them an immeasurable confidence heading to Japan.