Sean Farrell reports from Carton House
WITH A LIGHT dusting of snow on Maynooth this morning, Ireland re-jigged their training schedule slightly, but the subject of conversation remained consistent.
Paris, 41 phases, 45 metres, Sexton… that sort of thing.
“I was fairly blowing afterwards. I felt like I’d played the whole game, not 10 minutes,” says Devin Toner.
“You always know (Sexton is) going to pull a bit of magic out of the hat,” Joey Carbery assured us. Our hearts would have been less troubled if we’d known that in the 80th minute.
“It was an incredible moment. I lost the rag on the sideline,” says skills and kicking coach Ricbie Murphy. Formerly in the same role with Leinster he, more than anybody, has occupied a front row seat for the hard work undertaken by Jonathan Sexton to build up to a glorious climactic moment like Saturday night’s drop-goal winner.
So he was entitled to let the decorum slip as the final whistle blew… or even a little before.
The minute he hit it I knew it was over. I was actually half way out in the middle of the pitch looking at it!”
“The drop-goal comes down to a hell of a lot of hard work that was done outside of that game.
“I have known Johnny a very long time, 12 years maybe, and I can think of - definitely over the last eight years – hundreds of drop-goals being hit after practice. I don’t think any out-half will shy away from the opportunity to drop one of them, but it takes a bit to do it in a situation like that.
“The work that’s gone through the whole (move): the restart, Hendy, Earlsy’s high ball, the work in the tight, the ability hold onto the ball for that amount of time to create the opportunity was massive.
“For young kids who are out there: you have to make sure you do your extras.
“Team training is one thing, but the skills that are worked on outside the team or maybe some of those high balls, your kicking game, your passing game, your clean-out. They are all massive parts that you have to be able to do in order to be able to get the team collective right.”
Murphy reports that he will be able to work closely with Sexton as usual this week despite the out-half’s late pre-drop-goal cramp. Aside from Josh van der Flier and Andrew Conway (ruled out yesterday) a full complement of the squad will train in this afternoons snow delayed pitch session.
“This morning at about 8.30am we decided to flip the day to make things easier. Guys went to the gym this morning and we will train this afternoon.
“It’s not a massive deal. The pitch was covered and we wanted to give them a little bit of extra time to get the pitch ready.”
Preparations are in full swing for the first home Test of the Six Nations campaign then.
Professionalism decrees that Ireland must insist they won’t be tempted to experiment or rest front-liners, but with the electric talents of Carbery and Jordan Larmour still waiting on Six Nations debuts, Italy on a six-day turnaround would seem an ideal scenario to set the exciting young playmakers loose on.
“(Larmour) is very close to being ready. He has come in over the last couple of weeks and done very well. He’s learning very quickly. It is just a matter of whether it’s right this week or not and that will come down to the selection process.But we are not looking at him and saying ‘he’s not ready.’
“Most of the guys who got their first caps in November and played at the weekend see a massive difference in the physicality of the game. Six Nations, there is a trophy at the end of it. It does heighten the awareness of each individual and each team a little bit more.”
“(Italy) have created a really good backline. They have two physical carriers in the centre who are getting them good gain-lines and getting them in behind.
“(Matteo) Mizzoni and Mattia Bellini at fullback and on the wing are a real threat. They have added some new dimensions to their game. I thought they caused England a hell of a lot of problems early on and it was only after their disallowed try when England went down the other end and got a try that broke the game.”
“England cause a lot of stress they work really hard off the ball to give options to ball carriers and playmakers. There is definitely stuff from that game that we will be looking at and trying to build our own plan around it.”