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Exclusive Rachael Blackmore beat England on her own last week - our boys had a lot to live up to and they did

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Cian Healy and his Ireland team-mates drive a maul forward during the Guinness Six Nations game with England

Cian Healy and his Ireland team-mates drive a maul forward during the Guinness Six Nations game with England

Cian Healy and his Ireland team-mates drive a maul forward during the Guinness Six Nations game with England

What a brilliant win for Irish rugby yesterday. And what an infuriating one too!

Where was this Irish team against Wales and France? Lord God, did we leave a 2021 Grand Slam behind us?

Playing as we did in the Aviva last night, Ireland would have won both those matches, I’ve no doubt about that.

There was tempo, there was drive, there was organisation on show and there was a bucket of pride too.

Maybe somebody told these big, big men they had better win or else they would not be able to look 8st Rachael Blackmore in the eye.

She beat England on her own last week, and away from home at that. Our boys had a lot to live up to - and they did.

This match was won in what we call ‘the moments’. They can matter as much as tries and there were three of them over the 80 minutes.

The first was actually a try – Ireland’s first one from Keith Earls, a brilliant training ground move slickly executed.

It showed that we do have a few of these moves in our locker. Where were they earlier in the campaign?

Or was it just that Ireland’s pack weren’t on top in those games, that they couldn’t get the extra second in which to express themselves?

The second came early in the second half was when CJ Stander carried the ball into contact against three English tacklers.

Not only did he stand up to them, but then Tadhg Furlong came in behind Stander and so two Ireland players drove three English players backwards.

I guarantee you, every Irish player’s chest bulged at that collision.

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell celebrates with Tadhg Beirne

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell celebrates with Tadhg Beirne

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell celebrates with Tadhg Beirne

And the third ‘moment’ was Furlong himself, wheeling that English scrum backwards and winning a penalty that Johnny Sexton stuck over.

Again another message sent to the opposition – this is our day.

I want to expand on a few players I mentioned in the last few paragraphs.

First off there is Earls, who is playing the best rugby of his life and must be right in the running for a place on the Lions Tour, to go back to South Africa 12 years after he toured there as a kid.

Then there is Stander. All the word is that CJ is going back to South Africa for family reasons and no-one has any issue with that, it’s family first and above all.

However I hope that is the truth, because if he is going back because the IRFU wouldn’t give him a long-term contract, then this is penny-pinching of the highest order.

CJ is only 30, and playing at the peak of his powers. If we are letting him go for the sake of a few bob then it is madness.

Then there is Furlong. We forget that this brilliant prop didn’t start against France and Wales.

He only came on as a sub in both of them as the New Ross man came gradually back from a year-long injury.

Now if he’d been good to go from the off? What would a fully-fit Tadhg Furlong have been worth in those two losses?

Could he have made the difference to the narrow margin between victory and defeat in those games?

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Keith Earls is congratulated by his Ireland team-mates

Keith Earls is congratulated by his Ireland team-mates

Keith Earls is congratulated by his Ireland team-mates

And the last player is of course Johnny Sexton. He is still our leader, our main man.

Is he going to make the World Cup in the Autumn of 2023? It’s doubtful, so now our coaching team is in a bind.

Johnny is still our best bet to lead Ireland to victory from 10 in a Test match.

But what happens when his day is done? Do we want that to be just a year out from the World Cup when we have to go down a different road?

It’s one of the biggest issues in front of Andy Farrell.

He can’t jettison Johnny, not on this form, but the coach still has to be ready for the day when he is not there.

Robbie Henshaw was a deserved Man of the Match, and any doubt about his place in the Lions touring party is now gone.

We could have up to ten players travelling now, and one of them may well be Conor Murray.

This was the scrum-half’s best effort in an Irish shirt for a long, long time.

He kicked well, not aimlessly, and his passes were delivered with zip and he was an almost constant presence at the back of rucks and mauls.

Warren Gatland will value Murray’s experience when it comes to picking the scrum-halves for his touring party.

The glass is certainly more than half full at the end of this Six Nations.

There’s plenty to like. Young players like Ryan Baird and Craig Casey have at least had a taste of Test rugby. Hugo Keenan is now established as our full-back .

And while Stander is going to be a loss, there are a number of top-notch back-row players coming in to take his place.

Remember Caelan Doris started this international campaign as our No 8.

Hopefully he gets back to the action in time for Ireland’s summer tour of the South Pacific – if it happens.

For England, this was another indisciplined mess with which to end their tournament.

It’s as if coach Eddie Jones had said to his players, “right lads you were in the World Cup final, go out and do what you want, the refs won’t penalise you.”

He didn’t say that, of course, his team just played as though he had.

And that’s the other thing. England are not going to win the next World Cup playing that sort of physical, bullying, rugby.

In two and half years time, at least one of France, South Africa and New Zealand will be quite happy to take on England in that vein.

And maybe, just maybe, after yesterday Ireland would be able to too.

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