This week there is only one piece of news from the weekend, no it is not round ball, not it is not politics, it is Ireland winning the 6 Nations championship with 1 game left and a grand slam at steak.
Coming into the game against Scotland in Dublin the rugby punditry royalty where starting to turn as they are known to do. They didn’t he same to O’Neill and Keane recently along with others who succeed. It is the failure see-saw principle. That being that if you say the negative for long enough, eventually you are right. This was said of the Irish defence in this 6 Nations.
We will review the tournament as a whole when the slam is tucked firmly into the trophy cabinet, but let’s look at the pre and post Scotland banter, looking at the 4 main points mentioned pre match.
Firstly, the Irish defence was going to be found out against a speedy Scotland side. Ireland would end up defending too narrow and space would appear on each wing for the Scottish back three to exploit. Scotland had that plan in mind and went wide as often as they can. To the general public it looked like it was their own inability to finish the play that cost them points, but that is not the case at all. Hugh Jones had a delicious chip over the Irish line, caught it and was about to make the try scoring pass when he was tackled strongly and the play fizzled out. This happened a few times throughout the game, when Scotland went wide, Ireland where able to read it and deal with it. Rewatch the game and you will see that whenever the apparent try is on, Ireland makes a tackle or puts pressure on the passer which leads to a mistake. Massive improvement on last week and previous weeks. Is the defence perfect? No, but the improvements made during the week where massive. A wider and calmer defence (in an intense rugby match) meant that Ireland where in position to make those tackles. A short term fix that paid dividends.
Pre-match talk of leaky defence 0 – Ireland defence on the day 1
Secondly, the issue was that Stockdale would get a rush of blood and shoot out of defence to cost Ireland points. It is obvious (as we have said here many times) that he has been given licence to shoot out for the ball when he sees that it is on, and he did that again in the 21st minute. He read the play coming from his right, the study done in the video room gave him the confidence to go for it and he scored an easy try off that. Fantastic to see the confidence that he has in himself and the coach has in him to execute this. A summary of Stockdale on the day is 9 runs for 92 Metres with 2 tries, 3 tackles completed with 2 missed. Not a bad return for a player who has rushes of blood to the head. Best try scoring ratio in world rugby as we speak. Every naysayer needs to sit down!
Pre-match talk of leaky Stockdale 0 – Ireland / Stockdale 1
Thirdly on our list was that Garry Ringrose, the great Garry Ringrose, wouldn’t be fit enough to start, wouldn’t be sharp enough to start and would have too few minutes under his belt to do a job for Ireland. A lot of chatter about wanting him to just ‘do the basics well’ on the day beside Aki. We all agree that when fit, Ringrose is majestic, an amazing player to watch and I am sure a nightmare to defend against. And he was the same against Scotland. He looked bigger, confident and ready to go. Time away from the jersey made him hungry and it was obvious to all. If you are wondering what it is like to play at 13 for Ireland, go get in your shower and pretend there are 16 stone fellas charging at you and you have to find a way through in that tiny space. That is what Ringrose did on the day. It was amazing to see and near impossible to avoid comparisons to a certain other former 13 current king of Ireland. Quick stats for Ringer: 8 runs for 92 metres with 5 defenders beaten. 12 tackles with only 1 missed. An immensely immense performance from the lad.
Pre-match talk of an unfit Garry Ringrose 0 – Ringrose being a boss 1
So as you can see Ireland are winning the banter battle fairly easily up to this point. The last part is the pressure of a possible grand slam showdown in Twickenham against the old enemy; would this cause the players to look past Scotland? Absolutely not, this was a semi-final for them. This was knockout rugby, and with the pressure they played well within themselves, showing trust of the system, the players around them and what they had within themselves. Rarely getting out of 3rd gear Ireland won by 20 points. Calm and collected and strangling the visitors into errors and when the score was on, they were on it like a drunk in coppers!
Pre-match comments on Ireland handling pressure 0 – Ireland playing like champions 1
So we finish with a whitewash for the Irish team and coaching staff. While it is important to look at what went wrong during the games, the bottom line (as my balder brother from another mother Steve Austin used to say) is the scoreboard. Ireland have never score so many tries in the competition, yes there where tries conceded but that stat was addressed against Scotland and a good Scottish side where kept to 1 try. Massive improvement. Even with injuries Ireland have managed their way through the competition.
We head to Twickenham against a lame English side struggling to play players in the right positions and to actually show pride and leadership. 2 weeks in a row and they have struggled to do either, and for some reason we are underdogs?
Paddy’s day will be some sesh!