Lightening quick Jordan Larmour the standout act

Impressive performance from Ireland’s 21-year-old fullback brings crowd to its feet

Gerry Thornley and Liam Toland reflect on Ireland’s 26-14 win over France, which keeps Joe Schmidt’s side in the title race going into the final week of the 2019 Six Nations. Video: David Dunne

 

Being a creative artist amid such regimented and structural excellence cannot be easy.

On the hour mark, with spoils divvied and the holy trinity of Sexton, Murray and Best icing bruised limbs, Jordan Larmour did what a only handful of players on the planet can replicate.

Jordan be nimble, Jordan be quick, he was held and set to be bowled over until a Houdini escape from ankle shackles was followed by laterally evading another giant blue body. The crowd oohed and ahhed, but it was his next action that has Ireland’s departing Kiwi coach trusting him. After passing he tracked play before arching over a fallen comrade to deny Mathieu Bastareaud’s hulking body a chance to pilfer Ireland’s ball (and it was their ball for as long as the game was relevant).

Larmour rucked because on this team everyone must.

“We told him this morning Rob’s calf was still tight ‘so it’s you young fella at number 15’ and he virtually rubbed his hands together and said ‘right, I’m delighted’,” said Joe Schmidt with genuine amazement.

As the most successful coach and captain combination Irish rugby has ever known bid farewell to Dublin on a Test match weekend, the age of Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Larmour is only beginning to roll.

But he’s in trouble and he knows it. On 71 minutes there came a spontaneous ripple of applause after twisting the French in knots.

Even Sexton was up off the bench cheering yet Larmour retreated with a harsh Monday morning chiding already ringing in his ears. Skipping past three men was a sight to behold but all the coach notices is the French turnover penalty. No point dazzling if the ball doesn’t trickle into the scrumhalf’s palm.

Still, the public are growing to love the 21-year-old like they are already obsessed with Ryan and Ringrose’s combination of class and grunt. Once they see more of him the relationship can only blossom.

Dan Biggar may slow the coronation because, if allowed, the Welsh tactician will exploit Larmour’s lack of Rob Kearney’s solid essence.

“I’d be surprised if Rob wasn’t training on Tuesday,” said Schmidt. This was no French examination, none at all. Even the weather smiled on Jordan Larmour. A biblical storm of sleet, snow and rain abated seconds after sodden players escaped the warm-up.

The scene was set for Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos to drag this St Andrew’s hockey prodigy from pillar to post. Up into the swirling sky the ball would surely sail with the local audience praying to the gods of high-fielding to grant Larmour the gift of composure.

Suddenly, the sun shone on Kearney’s latest deputy. Unlike Robbie Henshaw against England, France failed to run or turn him, mainly because they failed to touch the ball themselves. Not even the delicate boot of Dupont could alter the lopsided territorial advantage in a first half of pure pressure rugby.

Ireland squeezed France dry, making any fullback’s gate-keeping duties largely irrelevant, so Larmour went hunting for work. From kick-off he was game, up on tippy toes only for Ryan to soar above everyone to gather and hide the ball up his green jumper.

Not a minute was clocked when the pitch seemed like a sinking ship as play diagonally slid towards the old Lansdowne pavilion corner with Larmour’s bouncing chip forcing Damien Penaud to gift Ireland an attacking lineout.

Larmour supported by John Cooney and CJ Stander. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Jordan Larmour supported by John Cooney and CJ Stander. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“That first involvement was special, wasn’t it? I’m sure it gave him a spring in his step,” said Schmidt. “As a fullback he is still learning to get into the right position at the right time but he is freakishly good on his feet.”

This was the game for 40 slow, methodical minutes; Ireland picking off three tries by Rory Best – whose tears during the anthems confirmed the end of these heady Dublin days. Johnny Sexton, looping the loop as Larmour’s decoy run tempted Yoann Huget into error. And finally, after Ringrose’s majestic leap and fumble denied the Aviva a score for the ages, Jack Conan muscled over.

No need for dominant tackles, just utter dominance proved the French revival against Scotland was mere illusion.

Larmour’s showing was not without flaw; throwing ball to ground and turned over (twice) by stepping into contact when a difficult offload would have gifted Jacob Stockdale a try. This is knitpicking but the worry about fullback remains and, as Schmidt likes it, nobody knows who is Kearney’s true understudy. Certainly not the players. Keep them guessing, keep them hungry, keep them working.

Larmour must possess a deep well of self-belief to couple with his magical talent because Schmidt blooded him early at the age of 20 and keeps going back to him. There is no room in the starting team, at the moment, so injury or Act III arrivals remain his opportunity.

What is guaranteed, five days from now under an emotional haze of Grand Slam fever in Cardiff, is every single player will be tested to their core.

“It’s going to be a proper Six Nations test match,” said Best.

Unlike this spectacle.

Henshaw will not return, Kearney has a chance, but the kid who already owns every medal on offer in European rugby could well meet Liam Williams and the tortuous tactical boot of Biggar. Cardiff is the suffocating stage where others, equally as gifted as Larmour, have faltered. Luke Fitzgerald’s fullback dream ended there.

Kearney returns if fit.

If not, Larmour gets properly examined.

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