Schmidt’s green machine rolls on with relentless control

Robbie Henshaw has immense game with try to crown man-of-the-match performance

When you know how to win, you know how to win. The green machine which Joe Schmidt has created – and rarely have they produced more of a machine-like performance as they did for the first hour yesterday at the Aviva to lead England by 19-3 – rolls on to Cardiff in splendid isolation atop the 2015 Six Nations table.

By ultimately winning 19-9, they have equalled the Irish record of 10 successive wins (2002-03) while leaving themselves in pole position to retain the title for the first time since 1949 and also within two games of a Grand Slam. So relentlessly accurate were Ireland that England, having targeted the scrum, had only one put-in during the entire match, while they made no inroads into a strong Irish scrum until the customary last quarter changes.

A revived Wales now lurk in the long grass, knowing that a win over Ireland in two weeks’ time will put them and, most likely England, back in a three-way tussle for the championship on the final weekend.

Tw-score win

“For once I didn’t have my heart in my mouth,” said Schmidt in reference to the relative comfort of a two-score win. “I’m not going to think about going forward for another 24 hours. I’m just going to enjoy this 24 hours. I snuck home last night to read a bedtime story to my son. He was pumped for the game because as long as we win he doesn’t have to do homework and so he is a massive Irish supporter as a result. We’re a pretty grounded bunch and you stay pretty grounded, but at the same time you do get a little bit excited.


“It’s exciting to have beaten England, it’s exciting to be in the position we are in. You don’t look at history because you can’t necessarily affect history, once it is there it’s there but you try to influence what is coming in the immediate future.”

Like after the French game, Schmidt will be grateful for a two-week respite. Cian Healy’s jaw injury, after a clash of heads with Dan Cole when the latter carried into contact, was of serious concern pending scans last night. In addition to Jamie Heaslip, who is in a race against time to make the Welsh game, the desperately unfortunate Seán O’Brien is observing the return-to-play protocols after suffering concussion.

There was the horrible sight of O'Brien climbing to his feet in the 24th minute and then sprawling onto the ground before Dr Eanna Falvey was noticeably quick to prevent him rejoining the fray.

Even more vital to Ireland's wellbeing will be the hamstring injury which forced Johnny Sexton off after his 54th-minute touchline conversion made it 19-3. The extent the injury will not be known for a day or two. It's tough on Ian Madigan, and England would have come into the game anyway, but Ireland just aren't the same without Sexton. No team would be.

Defensive work

Schmidt praised Madigan, not least for his defensive work in stopping Billy Vunipola a couple of times. "He kicked into superb space at one stage and overcooked it into touch on the full, which is disappointing for him because those are the bits of the game that we are looking for from him, that he can see where the space is and utilise it whether that is through the hands or putting the ball in behind. Johnny has been outstanding for us for a number of years. He is someone other players defer to he does run the game for us and he runs it very well."

The Fields of Athenry permeated the ground in the 15th minute – always a good barometer – and any attempts at Swing Low were drowned out with a cacophony of booing and whistling. As a metaphor for Ireland's day, the ominous pre-match snow and hailstones gave way to dry weather by kick-off and the match even finished in sunshine.

Although it was another one-try game, which contained the staple diet of hard straight running into contact and big collisions, it had more ebb, flow and variety than the French match. For this, as Schmidt said, England also deserve credit, as both teams looked to scrum positively and play off set-pieces.

English positivity

“The English are a super team, a very good team to play because they’re very positive and they really brought a lot to the occasion today. Both teams did. I know there was only one try in the game but there was a lot of movement in the game, a lot of – unfortunately – good counter-attack from them that opened us up a few times.”

Robbie Henshaw continued his startling rookie campaign with an immense man-of-the-match performance, and he has now made 44 tackles in three games. "And they are top quality tackles as well," said Schmidt. "Robbie is an incredibly understated kid. He is quietly spoken. He just gets on and delivers on the pitch, you really saw that today." A well- taken first Test try was a deserving career highlight to date.

In addition to Mike Ross, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahon, Jack McGrath had a big all-round game, while Conor Murray’s presence and tactical leadership was invaluable – all the more so with so many experienced heads missing from the backrow/half-back hub.

Schmidt will want as many of them back as possible. “The Welsh have stepped up steadily and not for the first time. I watched the game yesterday and I felt that they were in control. They’re going to be very, very tough.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times