1. The perfect start
IN TWICKENHAM LAST year, Ireland failed to score in the first half and were fortunate that they only trailed 3 – 0. On home turf, Joe Schmidt’s side started as they meant to go on.
While an out-of-nowhere try looks better on the scoreboard, Schmidt will have taken great pleasure from the opening phases. A good exit from the 22,was following by a brilliant Peter O’Mahony turnover before the ball was spread wide and the white defence was suckered into giving away a soft penalty. That sequence set the tone and Ireland kept on key throughout.
The pressure only eased off slightly in the 55th minute when Robbie Henshaw’s brilliant finish pushed Ireland to a 19 – 3 lead. But on the balance of play, this was a game England never truly looked like winning. The visitors had two brief forays into the 22 in the first half. Their first trip ended with a fine drop-goal after being met by a solid green wall, the second was curtailed by a superb line-out steal by Devin Toner. The big man raised the roof and the visitors threatened only sporadically before their late flurry.
3. (Still) Championship favourites
The Grand Slam is well and truly on, but two points today were an absolute necessity for defending the Six Nations title. Had Stuart Lancaster’s men remained unbeaten then the Chariot would have had carried a massive amount of momentum into their final two fixtures at home to Scotland and France.
Ireland still have the tougher schedule with trips to Cardiff and Edinburgh on the horizon, however this win was another example of Ireland finding a way to win games no matter what the obstacles.
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A lot – in fact, way too much – has been spoken about the aesthetic value of Schmidt’s Ireland gameplan. Whatever your opinion on the methods used to earn win after win there’s no denying that the framework is a tough one for wingers to operate in, yet Simon Zebo has completely re-characterised himself as a work-hungry winger.
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Against England, the Corkman was needed to put in an enormous amount of work in the first quarter to keep England clutching at straws. George Ford targeted him from restarts, he ran it back hard to set up a good platform. He kick-chased brilliantly again and, when he missed his tackle, he was soon back up to intercept the pass before the counter-attack could materialise.