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April, 2018 I



‘Insane’ Sexton hailed as Ireland’s hero Nick Purewal

JOHNNY Sexton’s “insanity” to play through any level of pain propelled Ireland to just their third Grand Slam in history, according to Joe Schmidt. Talisman fly-half Sexton’s overtime drop-goal capped a stunning 41-phase move that rescued Ireland a 15-13 victory over France in Paris on the NatWest 6 Nations’ opening weekend. Sexton then suffered a gluteal muscle injury in Ireland’s 37-27 win over Wales in round two, and struggled to kick cleanly at goal and perform unimpeded for the remainder of the tournament. The 32-year-old gritted his teeth and carried on regardless, however, staying the course long enough to drive Ireland to their clean sweep with Saturday’s 24-15 victory over England. Sexton passed a head injury assessment (HIA) in Ireland’s triumph despite copping a bloody nose, leaving Schmidt to hail his midfield general once again. “Johnny attracts a fair bit of attention, and he’s perfectly happy with that. Some of the attention he brings on himself, trying to smash people back when he’s standing on the tryline, making sure they don’t get over it. That’s how he bloodied his nose in the first place,” Schmidt said. “Then he was fine, he was totally coherent, but he was starting to fatigue, for sure, just because of the workload, his confrontational tackle ability, his commitment and general insanity. “He’s such a fantastic contributor to the group. And his intellect, he runs such a sharp game. His high kick was pinpoint at the very edge of Rob Kear-

Ireland’s skipper Rory Best lifts the Six Nations Trophy at Twickenham. Ireland have now won three Six Nations titles in five years. Picture: Gareth Fuller ney’s reach to lead to the first try, and he’s just such a good decision-maker.” Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale all crossed for tries as Schmidt’s side dug deep at Twickenham to extend their Irish record winning streak to 12 matches. Ireland became just the second team in history to complete a Grand Slam at Twickenham, emulating the feat last achieved by France in 1981. Stockdale set a Six Nations-era record with a seventh try in a single championship as Ireland toasted a St Patrick’s Day with a difference. Their second try came courtesy of a set play where tighthead prop Tadhg

Furlong popped up in the centres to send Bundee Aki hurtling through the line. Munster back-rower Stander capped the move by driving against the base of the post to register the try, leaving Schmidt confirming the move as a play specially designed to carve England open. “We played the identical move against England three years ago in Dublin, and Robbie Henshaw went through and fell over,” said Schmidt, referring back to Ireland’s 19-9 Six Nations win over England in 2015. “They are the only two times we’ve played it. The way they come up defensively we thought it would work again.”


Sexton ‘keen’ for Oz THE next challenge facing Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes will be in Australia as they take on the Wallabies in a mouth-watering three-Test series. Joe Schmidt’s team have soared to number two in the world rankings, after clocking up 12 consecutive victories. They have not tasted defeat in more than a year. With one eye on next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, there is increasing pressure on the team’s biggest stars to sit out the Australian tour. Gordon D’Arcy, the former Ireland and Lions centre, claimed Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray could do with a rest, but the Leinster outhalf has declared his desire to travel. “We’re well looked after so the amount of minutes they want you to play in a season is calculated,” Sexton said. “Our whole game minutes are planned so we can go to Australia, so we can play for Ireland in the summer tours and we’re still fit and ready to do it. I would like to go, yeah.” “Leading into a World Cup it is important to tick boxes along the way and beating Australia away from home would definitely be one of those so I would be mad keen on going.”

COUNT ME IN: Johnny Sexton says he is mad keen to come to Australia in June as part of the Irish tour.

Ireland’s record in Australia is poor and they will have to reverse a losing trend to continue their unbeaten run. The Wallabies have hosted Ireland 10 times since 1987, winning all 10 Tests. To find the last Irish victory on Australian soil, you need to go back to

1979 when Ollie Campbell kicked Ireland to victory in a tryless encounter at the Sydney Cricket Ground. That win, and a 27-12 victory a week earlier in Brisbane, gave the tourists a clean sweep on that tour. Can Irish head coach Joe Schmidt conjure a rare win on Australian soil? Ireland famously fell one-point short against the Wallabies in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Melbourne but that’s as close as the Irish have come to a win here over the past 30 years. The Irish have, however, won three out of four of the most recent clashes including a famous win over the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. Australia has str uggled against northern hemisphere opposition in recent years, losing all three Tests against England in 2016 and going down to Scotland last year. Irish rugby fans in Australia will now be hoping that Joe Schmidt’s team arrive with all their Grand Slam stars. Ireland will kick off their historic tour of Australia in Brisbane on June 9, followed by a second Test in Melbourne on June 16 and a third at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on June 23.

Meanwhile, Rory Best has declared captaining Ireland to just their third-ever Grand Slam as a dream come true. Best and Rob Kearney now stand alone as Ireland’s only double Grand Slam winners in history, and the 35-year-old admitted he could never have imagined skippering such a triumph. Asked to compare his two Grand Slam successes, Best replied: “This feels more special. “Every kid grows up dreaming of playing for Ireland, but to win something while captaining in that special green jersey is the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s the biggest highlight of my career.”

Meanwhile, Warren Gatland has acknowledged that Ireland is the best northern hemisphere team. “The thing with Ireland is that they’ve got a very structured approach to the way that they play,” former Ireland boss Gatland said. “They are tough to get the ball off, they will play two or three short passes off (number) nine one way, come back to the short side, and if they get a dent in the line they might play off the backs. They are a tough team to get the ball off, and it’s hard to break down at the moment,” he added. “They have done exceptionally well and congratulations to Joe and the team for winning the Grand Slam.”


Winger breaks try record IRELAND wing Jacob Stockdale has reflected on “a truly memorable few weeks” after being named NatWest 6 Nations player of the championship. The 21-year-old Ulster player scored a Six Nations record seven tries as Ireland secured their first Grand Slam since 2009. Tournament organisers announced that Stockdale took 32 per cent of the public vote, well clear of his team-mate Conor Murray in second, while fellow Ireland players Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls finished third and fourth, respectively. “It has been a truly memorable few weeks, making my first NatWest 6 Nations appearance, winning the championship and then going on to complete the Grand Slam against England,” Stockdale said, in a statement released by the Six Nations. “Breaking the tr y-scoring record was the cherry on top! “It’s an absolute honour to win the NatWest player of the championship, especially when you look at the amazing calibre of those short-listed.” The previous record of six tries in one Six Nations campaign was jointly held by Shane Williams, Chris Ashton and Will Greenwood. More than 78,000 votes were cast on a six-player shortlist, with Italy full-back Matteo Minozzi

Jacob Stockdale broke the Six Nations record with seven tries in Ireland’s five matches.

taking fifth and France captain Guilhem Guirado sixth. Stockdale, who only made his Test debut last summer, claimed try doubles in Ireland’s victories over Italy, Wales and Scotland, then added another touchdown during the Grand Slam-clinching triumph against England at Twickenham. Stockdale joins previous Irish winners Brian O’Driscoll, who won it a record three times, Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe and Gordon D’Arcy. Prior to Stockdale, the award was won for two years in succession by Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg.

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018