Sexton hails Grand Slam contribution from exceptional young guns
‘We couldn’t have done it without Jordan Larmour, Garry, Joey, these young guys have been exceptional’, says outhalf
Dan Leavy and James Ryan enjoy the victory over England on Saturday. Photograph: Inoho
Nirvana. As James Ryan’s celebratory Saturday night T-shirt told us, the kids are alright. Never mind. The Big Cheese and his boys are settled in now.
Even Johnny Sexton must stand and wait patiently behind Jordan Larmour.
“First campaign and a Grand Slam . . .”
That’s the story of 2018, as it was in 2009.
“We spoke about that at the start of the campaign,” said Sexton. “In ‘09 there were four or five guys who came into that squad and freshened things up - kept guys on their toes and brought this fearlessness.
“Yeah, we couldn’t have done it without Jordan Larmour, Garry, Joey, these young guys have been exceptional.”
The arrival of Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney [with Sexton, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien immediately after] was a slower, more stuttered introduction.
Different time, different coaches.
Since 2010 we have noticed Joe Schmidt slip quietly in through the Old Wesley clubhouse or out the Bective gate of Donnybrook for Schools Cup matches. There to see those two boys in light blue, navy shorts that no teenager could live with.
“Dan Leavy’s performance today was incredible,” Sexton agreed. “The guy is . . . and James Ryan - I hate the fact that they are all from St Michael’s, that drives me crazy! I wish a few more were coming out of St Mary’s.
“Look, they are exceptional rugby players and people. Hopefully they can keep their feet on the ground and have more success going forward.”
Leavy is the oldest of this magnificent seven. He turns 24 in May. Garry Ringrose comes next, an established world class centre at 23.
Joey Carbery has known 22 winters (although some were sun-kissed surf mornings on Baylys Beach). Same goes for Andrew Porter who, along with Jacob Stockdale, served under Ryan’s towering leadership when Ireland reached the 2016 Junior World Cup final.
Not one of that English side, who soundly beat them 45-21, was deemed ready for Eddie Jones’ Six Nations squad.
“We need more depth,” admitted the England coach after this Twickenham humiliation. “I will go back to watching club games, watching the under-20s, to see how I can strengthen the squad.”
Schmidt has already, masterfully, linked two golden generations into one dynastic empire.
Larmour is the baby, not 21 until July, but they all belong to a slightly expanded yet still the rarest breed: Irish Grand Slammers.
“I remember watching Dan when he played senior cup for St Michael’s,” he said. “I played with James Ryan at under-18s and everyone knew he was going to be a superstar. It’s a special group of players.”
Of the chosen seven, only Ringrose has lost in an Ireland jersey. But what a force he has already become. This has not been a smooth season, following three surgeries on shoulders and ankle, but two desperately unlucky injuries - Robbie Henshaw’s shoulder collapse when scoring against Italy and Chris Farrell’s innocuous knee twist at an open training session in the Aviva - reopened the door.
“I realise how lucky I have been.”
This has been Ireland’s good fortune. Ringrose’s relentless, inspiring performance against Wales will stand the test of time while this first bow at Twickenham - with a magic try and clean ball rips off George Kruis and Elliot Daly - is one for the ages.
“I [watched the Sexton drop goal at Stade de France] in The Bridge with a couple of the Leinster lads. That was a pretty memorable moment, for anyone who’s in any way associated with rugby in Ireland, and one I won’t forget.”
Leavy reminds us that Saracens are coming to Dublin on April 1st.
“I am drinking beer and champagne at the moment but, yeah, will probably reset Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Only Ryan or maybe Ringrose will deny him the Ireland captaincy down the line.
“We were always going for the Grand Slam,” shrugged this high achieving flanker. “To get it done in Twickenham was brilliant.”
Do you realise it might never be this sweet again? “That’s being pessimistic. I don’t know. It’s one from one for me. I haven’t been on the other end of it. It’s brilliant.”
They have come up together, merged with the established and will each carry Ireland to Japan.
“You can see what it means to the older lads,” Larmour added. “They have been trying to get a Grand Slam for what is it . . . nine years.”
Sexton is standing behind him, laughing his heart out.
“First campaign and a Grand Slam. Jesus!”