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Schmidt seals status as Ireland's greatest ever coach with Grand Slam success

The Ireland head coach’s class told once again as his side delivered a controlled performance.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

JOE SCHMIDT IS Ireland’s greatest coach ever now, if he wasn’t already.

Three Six Nations titles in five years and the Grand Slam on top of it. He guided Ireland to their first win against the All Blacks in 2016 and helped them to a maiden victory against the Springboks on South African soil that same year.

The Ireland team celebrate winning the grand slam Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Today’s achievement in London is the pinnacle, though, and how convincing it was.

Almost everything Ireland planned to do came off in a three-try, 24-15 victory, with their game plan picking the English apart in the key moments and their control showing up throughout.

Schmidt’s players were impressively focused despite the hype of the build-up and after saying they were going to treat this like any other game, they simply delivered more of what has made them a winning team.

The very first hit of the game told a story of what was to come.

Four players converged around Johnny Sexton just before the kick-off and appeared to be discussing exactly where to target, before the out-half hung a beautiful kick – one of many – over Maro Itoje.

The England lock took the ball but also took a smashing hit from 21-year-old James Ryan, who has yet to lose a Six Nations game and is now a Grand Slam champion.

Ireland’s defence shipped three tries in this game, but that hit set a tone that rarely dipped over the course of a comprehensively brilliant 80-minute performance from Schmidt’s team.

England had bright patches, particularly in the build-up to Elliot Daly’s first try, but even then they had to fight ferociously to get over the tryline against 14-man Ireland, who had Peter O’Mahony in the sin bin.

Dan Leavy celebrates winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland can choke teams with their ability to pressurise, but they soaked up plenty of it in that spell too, making England work so hard for their eventual five-point reward.

The first try was typical of Schmidt’s Ireland, the aerial route proving so fruitful as Sexton hung his garryowen in the air for at least four seconds to invite some anxiety in Anthony Watson, Rob Kearney chasing wonderfully.

There did appear to be a knock-on from the Ireland fullback, but the follow-up chase was outstanding and Garry Ringrose beat everyone to the punch. An early score and early setback for the already confidence-shorn England.

CJ Stander’s try showed us the creative genius of Schmidt – a first-phase strike play from a left-hand lineout that we have not seen before. The Ireland head coach saved something special for the big occasion.

This time, Ireland shortened their lineout and positioned Tadhg Furlong in midfield outside Sexton. The out-half hit his tighthead prop and burst around on that familiar loop, luring the English eyes towards him.

As ever, Schmidt had built deception into Ireland’s attack, with Furlong instead slipping a short pass to Bundee Aki arriving on a storming line to his outside shoulder and scorching through the English defence.

Support play is built into Schmidt’s set-piece strikes too and Stander was in the perfect place on Aki’s inside shoulder to accept a beautifully-timed and understanding pass, allowing the number eight to finish impressively.

Jacob Stockdale’s try was sparked from some clever playmaking by Conor Murray, slipping down the short side, but then it was the Ulsterman’s quality that took over as he chipped Mike Brown and showed his strength to ride the initial attempts to ground him.

Joe Schmidt during the warm up Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt has backed the 21-year-old despite the questions around his defensive abilities and the discussion around Stockdale possibly being dropped in the wake of the win over France seems foolish now.

He broke the Six Nations record for tries by an individual across a championship with his seventh and it’s scary to think how many he could score for Ireland if he stays injury-free.

Schmidt’s prowess as a selector was underlined once again, while Andy Farrell’s work on Stockdale’s ever-improving defence should not be underestimated.

Ireland’s game plan here was, as ever, intelligent and simple. They pressure teams to breaking point, they have flashes of creativity from Schmidt’s set-piece plays or through players like Sexton and Stockdale, and they work harder than most.

Their pack is now not only smart, but also immenely powerful. Additions like James Ryan and Dan Leavy have added huge impact and power and throughout this championship, the Irish pack has bullied the opposition.

Maro Itoje and George Kruis in the England second row were clearly second best and looked relatively weak against the onslaught from Ireland’s brilliant pack. That Ireland scored three more tries to finish the Six Nations with a total of 20 stresses that Schmidt has pushed Ireland’s attacking forward.

Excitingly for Irish rugby ahead of next year’s World Cup, it looks like there is even more to come from this squad and from Schmidt.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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