Ireland are now Grand Slam winners, but who will make the next step in Irish rugby in Japan 2019. Eoin Stynes reports
On a snowy Saturday in March, Ireland sealed their place in the history books. Joe Schmidt and his Irish team have now joined past teams of 1948 and 2009 after securing only a third Grand Slam in the history of Irish rugby, along with a 14th Championship and 10th Triple Crown.
The 24-15 victory over Eddie Jones’ England topped off a perfect Six Nations for the men in green – picking up a total of 26 points overall, striding clear from Wales in second place with 15 – placing them on top of the pile of Northern hemisphere rugby.
For Schmidt’s men, a well deserved rest period away from the pitch beckons.
But, for the pundits, commentators and fans alike, eyes are set on the future. Most notably on who will carry the flame forward towards 2019 and the Rugby World Cup that comes with it.
One of the biggest positives Joe Schmidt is sure to take from this campaign is the emergence of a crop of fresh faced and exciting prospects who are well able to battle it out on the international stage.
“The young guys that have come in usually they take a little time to integrate in to the team and learn from the experience. They have just added value”
Shane Jennings credited the young players with how quickly they have settled in to the squad during coverage on TV3: “The young guys that have come in usually they take a little time to integrate in to the team and learn from the experience. They have added value.”
Four in particular – James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour – have burst on to the scene and at times been the guiding light for Ireland.
The young UCD man has taken hold of that number four jersey – and it doesn’t look like he’s letting go anytime soon – in this Six Nations Campaign, and has become a key player for Ireland so far in the championship. Having made his debut in last summer’s tour he has yet to experience a defeat at test level and has proven to be a great pairing with Devin Toner in the second-row. Ryan’s workrate on and off the ball has stood out on many occasions backing up his rising reputation in the green jersey.
The 21-year-old has had a dream start to his international career with another try in Twickenham on Saturday bringing him up to a total of seven in the championship – making him the only player to ever score seven tries in one Six Nations. The prolific try scorer has been caught out in defense on a few occasions drawing more than one bead of sweat on to, Ireland’s defence coach, Andy Farrell’s brow. But he is more than contributing his fair share to the team with his haul of scores. Stockdale has become an integral player in Ireland’s attacking game and is sure to be a star in the future.
The young Leinster man is a more than able replacement for any international team and is quickly establishing himself on the world stage. The prop came on for the injured Furlong after three minutes against Italy and was one of the stand-out performers but struggled against the Scottish scrum in round four. In a country that was once short of quality tightheads, he definitely adds another option for Schmidt moving forward.
He hasn’t had a real chance to show his full potential yet but came on to show that he was not afraid to attack against the English. His missed tackle against Italy seems to be his only real mistake so far in the green jersey. But, Schmidt obviously has big plans for the 19 year old and a potential Stockdale/Larmour partnership in the backline could prove formidable in the coming years.
This new group of players – and the pressure that comes with their inclusion in the squad – may be proving to be a contributing factor to the renewed form from the likes of Rob Kearney and Keith Earls throughout the tournament, with Jennings crediting them again during TV3’s coverage of the match: “So when you have older guys who are a bit more streetwise, [with] a bit more nouse, and you have young guys who don’t have those inhibitions and they just go out and play. It’s a lethal combination.”
In the coming months Joe Schmidt will be keeping a close eye on these players and their progress, and there is no doubt that all four of them will be causing selection headaches for the New Zealander and his coaching staff.