Joe Schmidt’s record in charge of Ireland now reads three Championship titles and a Grand Slam in five attempts but if one moment in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations defines him, it was CJ Stander’s try in the first half at Twickenham.
With Ireland 7-0 to the good and with a lineout about 30 metres out, Ireland delved into the Schmidt playbook for a move they have tried only once before – back in 2015, also against England.
On that occasion Robbie Henshaw did not quite make it through and England survived. No such luck this time for Eddie Jones’ men as Tadhg Furlong was fed the ball in midfield by Sexton, pirouetted and put Bundee Aki through a gap.
The centre had Garry Ringrose on one shoulder, but instead passed left to Stander, and the No.8 did the rest to make it 14-0.
Three years and countless lineouts later, Schmidt had kept that play up his sleeve and it paid off at the most crucial moment in the 24-15 success.
Schmidt said: “We played the identical move against England three years ago in Dublin. Robbie Henshaw went through and fell over.
“He got ankle-tapped and Billy Vunipola managed to drag him down. They are the only two times we have played it. The way they come up defensively, we thought it would potentially work again with where they place their forwards. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.
“Sometimes you get double jeopardy where you think they might do this, and they think we might do this.”
On this occasion it did pay off, and that moment was simply the latest example of Schmidt’s value to this special group of Irish players.
Whether it is being able to reference a scrum to the second it occurred, or stopping on his way out of a press conference to watch a couple of phases of the Wales v France clash, Schmidt’s attention to detail is phenomenal.
As ever, the Kiwi coach was quick pile the praise on his players and most particularly their defensive effort in the period just after half-time when England threw everything at Ireland in a bid to fight back from a 21-5 deficit.
Schmidt added: “There’s more relief than anything else, there always is in these moments because you’re willing it to happen so much, you’re wanting players to go out and deliver what they are capable of.
“There’s a mixture of pride as well. It was mentioned about the defence, the first eight minutes after half-time, you’re up 21-5, you know that you can’t let them get a score early in the second half. I thought the defence there was immense.
“We had to fight our way out of the 22, they laid siege to our 22 during that period of time. There was a heck of a lot of character shown.”
Only two players remain from the 2009 Grand Slam side, skipper Rory Best and full-back Rob Kearney. Keith Earls had made his debut in 2008 but did not feature in that team, and injuries also denied him a part in the 2014 and 2015 title-winning sides.
So for one of Ireland’s most experienced and talented backs, this was a first taste of Championship success, and Schmidt was clearly thrilled for the 30-year-old, particularly considering the influence he has had on record-breaking wing partner Jacob Stockdale.
He said of Earls: “I spoke to Earlsy briefly. I said to him, this would be your third if you just glued yourself together a bit earlier.
“It’s not for lack of wanting to pick him, it’s just that he had a few mistimed injuries but that can happen to a player.
“It was fantastic to have him and for him to get his due reward. He’s been really super for us, and I don’t just mean on the pitch, that’s very visible on the pitch, how sharp he looks, but also off the pitch.
“He leads by example, he’s very professional in what he does, he prepares himself really well, he communicates well with those younger players so he’s been a catalyst for some confidence and improvement in the back three.”