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Epic 41 phases can deliver benefit beyond just a single win for Ireland

“You look back on that, see what you can do when you’re under pressure.”

Henry Chavancy watches on as Johnny Sexton celebrates kicking the winning goal Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IF YOU’RE SICK of reading about Ireland’s 41-phase escape to victory – 1, what’s wrong with you? But 2 – you might want to tune out from Joe Schmidt’s team for a while to come.

In the moments post-match, Jonathan Sexton briefly touched on the torture of  past occasions when he didn’t get an opportunity to cancel out a potentially-decisive missed kick. Almost without a doubt, he is alluding to the 2013 loss to New Zealand. But there is another comparison to be made between that outrageous 2013 match and what unfolded in Stade de France on Saturday night.

Dane Coles passes to Ryan Crotty to score a late try Ryan Crott receives the pass from Dane Coles to deny Ireland victory. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Two teams – one in black, one in green – remaining calm and perfectly illustrating how much they trust the process.

The words ‘Joe’ and ‘details’ have tumbled over the line into cliché terms, but like any good cliché, it’s overused for very good reason.

Much of the French game was an arduous watch. Irish errors, along with some reluctance from referee Nigel Owens, limited progression and kept France firmly in the contest long enough for Teddy Thomas to break the game open.

What followed Anthony Belleau’s missed penalty on 77 minutes though, was a complete demonstration of the details which players are continually made to sweat over. Under pressure and fatigue, they were patient, they were consistent and accurate.

Jonathan Sexton rolled the dice with his perfect cross-field kick to meet Keith Earls’ athletic leap, but this was far from an individualistic panic-fuelled hail mary. This was, to again borrow a mantra from Philadelphian sports, trusting the process. The 15 players on the field when the game was in the balance backed themselves and the system rather than growing frustrated and hurrying to the quickest, risky route to a score.

At Carton House yesterday, it was pointed out to CJ Stander that All Black head coach Steve Hansen, after winning the World Cup in 2015, pointed to the late win over Ireland as the beginning of something special.

For Ireland, Saturday night’s drama need not exist in a vacuum. The muscle memory of it, the ‘dark places’ delved by carriers and cleaners  to set up one last chance, will be an invaluable tool whenever Ireland are in a tight spot. It may also bring the added benefit of instilling doubt in opponents, because they too will know Ireland are capable of forcing the last-gasp turnaround.

Ireland’s forwards Sean Cronin Devin Toner Jack McGrath CJ Stander and Dan Leavy Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“I think as a collective,” says Stander, “you look back on that, see what you can do when you’re under pressure.

“And when the time comes and you need to win certain battles in a game, certain metres in a game to get the opportunity to go to post, or get a penalty – we done that. A lot of players who haven’t been in that position will have learned a lot from that game.”

The more tangible benefits of the manner of victory come in the short term. A sense of momentum is often crucial in the Six Nations. By nabbing four points when one looked likely, Ireland certainly have that.

However, the performance in the first 77 minutes presents numerous sticks to beat this team with – not that Schmidt’s notorious details ever spares the rod – and that is an ideal way to prepare for a home meeting with Italy and, for a few front-liners who will sit that one out, Wales.

CJ Stander Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“To get the win was great to celebrate,” says Stander, not disguising the important ‘but’ in the chamber ready to fire, “but if you go back into the game, there’s a lot of small battles we didn’t win.

“A few breakdowns and set-pieces we needed to win at some stage, so that makes it easy to switch back to what we need to fix.

“We want to be the best, so we want to fix those small things…”

Because big victories are all about the small things.

‘You switch off and go into a deep, dark place’: CJ Stander’s (obstructed) view of those 41 phases

 Van der Flier out for the season with knee injury, Conway set to miss Italy clash

Wonderful Welsh dominate our Six Nations Team of the Week

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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