Ireland secured the Six Nations Grand Slam by beating England 24-15 at Twickenham.
Here are three takeaways from Twickenham.
Jacob Stockdale history maker
The Ulsterman was an inspirational presence against England, breaking the record for most tries in a single Six Nations campaign – with seven in five matches.
The 21-year-old has been one of the leading lights in Joe Schmidt’s side this term, and popped up with a moment of magic at a period where Ireland seemed to lose momentum.
One of the best in the business with ball in hand, the Ulster youngster showed his stellar pace to take the ball on, chip it over of Mike Brown and touch down on the end line on the stroke of half-time.
Stockdale’s good positioning and lethal finishing under the bright lights of Twickenham makes him a key cog in Ireland’s Grand Slam wheel.
Although he didn’t get on much ball in the second-half, he was hungry for possession and chased down kicks at every opportunity with the hope of one ball spilling loose in a scoring position.
If the elusive winger can continue his stunning form leading into next year’s Rugby World Cup, then Schmidt has a hell of a player in a sparkling team.
Ireland show mettle at key moment
With Ireland soaking up pressure from England despite being 14 points ahead, Peter O’Mahony conceded a ‘strategic’ penalty to stop a certain try.
The Munsterman collapsed the maul 22 minutes in and was yellow carded – with Ireland instantly looking under pressure when reduced to 14 men.
But if England had scored straight away they would have gained momentum with the one-man advantage.
Five minutes into the sin binning, Owen Farrell picked out a cleverly weighed kick to send Eliot Daly through to touch down and cut the deficit to nine points.
However, England stayed one dimensional and lacked creativity, with Ireland holding possession and waiting for their moment to strike.
To show this character lacking one of their most influential forwards, and being on the backfoot, underlines the defensive strength of this side.
It was a good penalty to give away despite losing a man. O’Mahony had such faith in his pack that they could defend the line when he was off. They didn’t panic, developed phase play and sought opportunities to score.
Henderson the talisman
Ireland looked strong in defence throughout the contest and Henderson was at the fore of their dominance up front.
The 26-year-old carried the ball effectively and showed dynamic strength in contact to deny England’s pack from gaining a foothold in the match.
The Ulsterman has established himself as Ireland’s first-choice second-row and looks certain to be Schmidt’s starting lock for Japan 2019, alongside James Ryan.
Overall, Henderson played the line superbly, counter-rucked ferociously and set the tempo for a commanding display from the Ireland pack.
His turnover on Farrell in the first half set the tempo for a commanding display from the Ireland pack and he breached the gain line whenever Ryan and all were behind him in support.
He also functioned well at the tail of the line-out and prevented Maro Itoje from gaining a foothold on the contest.
Ireland may look at players like Conor Murray, Jonny Sexton and Stockdale as central figures to their Grand Slam success. But in Henderson, they have a real jewel who can inspire them to more glory in the future.
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This year’s edition of the Six Nations concludes this weekend, with England’s home clash against Grand Slam-chasing Ireland the match where most of the attention will be.
Here, we break down each of the three fixtures.
ENGLAND V IRELAND – THE BREAKDOWN
This must be getting boring from an English perspective but once again the main focus is going to be what happens on the floor.
In defeats to Scotland and France, England have been abject at the breakdown – both with and without possession of the ball.
They were turned over nine times by the French and they just can’t happen against Ireland.
In contrast, Ireland have been masterful in keeping this area of the game clean especially when in possession, allowing quick ball and a licence to release their backs.
It’s another new-look back row for England with Chris Robshaw, Sam Simmonds and James Haskell lining up and they have to make sure they are on site before their Irish counterparts securing quick, clean ball for Richard Wigglesworth and doing all they can to disrupt Conor Murray and his charges.
WALES V FRANCE – THE FIRST 20 MINUTES
Not renowned as fast starters, Wales have flown out of the blocks in the two Six Nations games they have won this campaign.
They firmly went for the jugular against Scotland and ran out comfortable winners, last week in Cardiff, Italy were able to get a foothold in the game for a time but the damage had been done.
With a new-found attacking intent expect Wales to try and get France on the back-foot early on and try and play on mental insecurities in the French camp.
Yes, they may have picked up a win against England last time out, but had been less than average before that and if they find themselves on the end of some adversity and waves of red pressure are likely to crumple.
On the other hand, if they can keep it close early on, use their strike runners properly and build phases they could still make things difficult for Warren Gatland’s men.
ITALY V SCOTLAND – THE UNFORCED ERRORS COLUMN
In part, both sides have been the architects of their own downfall this campaign through some very basic errors.
This was evident last time out when Scotland spurned three guilt-edged chances against Ireland through some pretty sloppy passing in the back-line. It was the same story in Cardiff with mistakes aplenty from intercept passes, to the ball just not going to hand.
Italy have once again come under pressure from those who question their worth in the tournament and at times have not helped themselves with an inability to keep the ball in hand.
There were glimpses of improvement in Cardiff, but it’s a dim light at the end of a very long tunnel.
The side that can string phases together, and not make the glaring defensive errors we have seen previously will come out on top in this one.
For the first time in his England tenure, Eddie Jones is under the microscope.
Up until a couple of weeks ago his record with the Red Rose stood at 25 tests, 24 wins and considering the state of things when he took over following a disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign that can’t be sniffed at.
However, two defeats on the spin and it’s being seen as a lot more than just a fly in the ointment. Questions over whether certain senior players deserved their place in the side, coupled with disastrous showings at the breakdown, and a backline failing to find its groove and all of a sudden, fine tuning in the run up to Japan 2019 is being replaced by calls for wholesale change.
Going into this weekend’s clash with Ireland, Dylan Hartley returns at hooker, while the more dynamic pairing of James Haskell and Sam Simmonds start in the back row.
There’s a reshuffle in the back line too, Owen Farrell switches to fly half with the struggling George Ford dropped, while Ben Teo moves to 12, and Jonathan Joseph comes in outside him.
One of the most telling changes however is Richard Wigglesworth starting at scrum half, England’s third different starter at nine in five matches.
At 34, he is no spring chicken and not a pick for the future by any means – but right now, he’s what England need.
They have been hit harder than many would have imagined by the loss of Ben Youngs. When the Leicester nine went down in a heap after rupturing his MCL against Italy, England lost a man who has been at the fulcrum of all things good about their game in the last couple of years.
He may not be the flashiest, or receive the global plaudits that perhaps he deserves but his impact on this side is immeasurable.
He marshalls the forwards well, has built a great rapport for both Ford and Farrell, times a pass beautifully, and has a very good kicking game. He’s never less than a seven out of ten.
Sadly, for England, Danny Care has not been able to replicate that and his buzzing style has not translated well into a starting berth in the international game. He has a field day against flagging defences with 15 minutes to go but fails to assert himself from the start.
This is where Wigglesworth fits in. Another consistent performer, the first thing he has on his side is the relationship with Farrell. Playing together week-in, week-out with Saracens has built up a bond of almost telepathic levels.
Wigglesworth will know exactly what the man outside him will want, when he wants it, and, given the right platform, the former Sales Sharks stalwart will deliver.
Another thing he has in the locker is an almost metromonic box kick. The story goes that when Chris Ashton was at Saracens, the backroom staff had worked out the perfect distance of a box kick to ensure a good chase was around 28 meters. Wigglesworth would drill and drill to find that length and come gameday would regularly drop the ball on a sixpence allowing Ashton to either challenge or immediately snuff out any hope of a counter attack.
And it is that point that’s crucial against Ireland. Rob Kearney, Keith Eales and Jacob Stockdale have counter attacked with real venom, but the equation to prevent this is pretty simple.
Don’t kick loosely to them, and ensure the chasing runners has something to go after. With Farrell at 10, the likelihood of kicking accuracy out of hand increases compared to Ford, and Wigglesworth likewise compared to Care, potentially nullifying one of Ireland’s most potent attacking weapons.
It may not be a move for the long term, but England would love nothing more than to be Grand Slam party-poopers, and get back in the win column as their focus sharpens on next year’s World Cup.