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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 15 April 2021

'If they had been a bit more injured, it would've been safer in the changing room!'

Ireland’s players soaked up every moment of their Grand Slam success.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

THE LAP OF honour was sprinkled with lots of different stories.

The sight of Keith Earls’ two daughters running towards him was heart-warming, the injured wing limping around the pitch with them, lofting one onto his shoulders and holding the other’s hand.

Ella May and Laurie have had plenty of reason to celebrate their father’s achievements in recent weeks, but this was a little more special.

Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and Jonathan Sexton celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Just behind, having celebrated with their own families, came two of the other elder statesmen – Rob Kearney and Rory Best. Both looked shattered after playing leading roles and even their quit joy demonstrated the composure they bring.

Ahead of Earls, the younger lads were going wild.

Dan Leavy draped a tricolour over his shoulders, Conor Murray coaxed the ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ chant from the deliriously happy Irish fans, while James Ryan and Jordan Larmour spotted friends and family in the stands.

Ryan and Larmour are still 21 and 20, respectively, and it’s frightening to think how much they could achieve in their careers, but for now they were simply letting loose.

The pair of them jumped over the advertising hoarding and launched themselves into the embrace of their loved ones.

“A few of my mates were there, Barry Fitzpatrick was there,” said Larmour afterwards, mentioning his friend, a former Leinster underage player. “I just caught him out of the corner of my eye so I went over to him and gave him a big hug! It was good.”

When Ireland had soaked every bit of joy out of the experience on the pitch, they disappeared in underneath the stand for the more private celebrations.

Larmour hinted at “a good bit of champagne going everywhere” and informed us that the ring leader of the celebrations was someone you might not have guessed – Peter O’Mahony.

The Ireland team celebrate winning the Grand Slam Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt understands when to leave his players at it and he headed up to the press conference room with Best to field questions about how Ireland did it, how they can develop even further, and how good his squad is.

The injuries to Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Keith Earls were of concern, but Schmidt suggested that they aren’t too bad.

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“They’re really good,” said Schmidt. “In fact, I think if they had been a bit more injured it would have been a little bit safer in the changing room. They’re very exuberant right now. Besty and I got out relatively dry but it’s very wet.

“Some of those guys who came off injured – I don’t know whether it was a plan – but they’ve got the most energy right now. Johnny and Bundee were bouncing around.

“Keith wasn’t, but he’s not a bounce-around guy, only on the pitch, which he does a good job of.”

That may be slightly worrying for Munster fans to hear, but for now Earls is part of the celebrations. Any possible bad news can wait until later.

A homecoming party is planned for the Aviva Stadium tomorrow at 4.30pm and it will be interesting to see how Ireland’s players roll into that event – they deserve their debauchery after an impressively controlled Grand Slam success.

Schmidt is more likely to have a few glasses of wine than to be videoed singing Ireland’s Call in a London nightclub tonight, but he will reflect with real pride on his team’s achievement.

Dan Leavy celebrates winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I think it’s probably their resilience,” said Schmidt when asked what made him most proud in this Grand Slam. “I felt that we were really struggling in France in that last eight minutes after Teddy Thomas scored.

“That’s tough when you’ve controlled the game and missed a kick to go 15-6 up to make the game safe. And suddenly you’re 13-12 down, to show the steel that they did, to show the commitment and just plain ordinary rugby ability, to keep the ball, to connect up, to win the ball in the air, and then the exceptional Johnny has to put the ball between the uprights to finish it off.

“As frustrating as it was when Wales got back close to us after we had a 14-point lead, again, it never really felt like we would give that up.

“For Jacob Stockdale to race away and score at the end, Jacob was totally in control of the edge of the defence.

“And today, that eight minutes after half-time sums up this team. Yes, they can put together some really good moments and score tries.

“We probably totalled more than we’ve ever scored in a Six Nations [they finished with 20 tries].

“They delivered on that side, but that pure resilience, that ability to get back up and get back in the defensive line to protect that try-line in the eight minutes after half-time, was exceptional.

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Murray Kinsella

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