The David Corkery column: Next step for impressive Ireland is to take down England on enemy soil

The David Corkery column: Next step for impressive Ireland is to take down England on enemy soil
Ireland's Jacob Stockdale and George North of Wales compete for a ball on the ground. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IT was far from pretty, however, it was very effective. 

So Andy Farrell and his players can now look forward to their trip to Twickenham with much optimism.

The one aspect of the Six Nations that keeps delivering it that on any given day any side can emerge victorious, Italy excluded.

Judging from Ireland’s World Cup flop and last week’s fortunate win over Scotland, few predicted they'd beat Wales.

Sport is all about learning from your mistakes though. Ireland did on Saturday.

It looks like Ireland are not as far off the mark as we previously thought. There is still lots of work to do especially with our attacking options and set-pieces, but the team’s conviction to opt for a more expansive game was encouraging.

They are still kicking away far too much possession but at least now the ball is being moved through the hands and players like Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour are being given opportunities.

It was also extremely pleasurable to see Sexton kick for the corners instead of opting for the posts. Exactly what Ireland needs after the ultra-cautious Joe Schmidt era.

With regards to Wales, they are certainly not as good as their performance against Italy made them out to be and now all the other nations know exactly what they must do in order to beat them.

When playing in Cardiff they will always be a different prospect but when Ireland seriously challenged them upfront and players like George North and Dan Bigger were nullified, they didn’t seem to have the same dogged resilience that they had last year.

Like Ireland, they are also going through a changing of the guard, but they certainly don’t seem to have the ruthless traits that Warren Gatland instilled.

Matching Wales physically was always going to be Ireland’s first job and through a combination of a dominating front five and a much-improved backrow, the Irish forwards paved the way for Conor Murray and captain Sexton to control the tempo.

Even though Murray had his best game of rugby in 18 months I still think Farrell was wrong for selecting him ahead of John Cooney. For the first time in a long time, we saw the Limerick man carry ball into contact, clear out rucks when required to do so and make those telling tackles.

Hopefully this new lease of life will be transferred from the green of Ireland to the red of Munster when the Six Nations is completed.

The other player who needed a big game on Saturday was Peter O’Mahony and he duly delivered.

O’Mahony was completely burnt out because of his efforts during the World Cup. I also believe that Munster’s poor showing over the last few seasons have taken their toll.

O’Mahony gives everything every time he takes to the field and when you care so much about what you do, it eventually drains you. While he was a very real candidate to wear the captain’s armband, I think he is a better player without it hopefully will return to Munster with a renewed sense of vigour.

CJ Stander was super at the breakdown though Tadhg Furlong was just incredible.

When Furlong is on song and receives any kind of ball on the front foot, there are not many sides who can cope with his power and destructive capabilities.

Cian Healy also did well however, he is not the powerhouse he was three years ago.

One of the questions I would like to ask Farrell is, how can he involve his back three more often when Ireland have the ball in hand?

All three players Conway, Larmour and Stockdale played the full 80 minutes on Saturday and we simply need to see them popping up more often in Ireland's strike plays.

I’ll leave the last few paragraphs for Ireland’s captain and in my opinion Ireland’s greatest ever fly-half.

I used to think that number 10s were only on the pitch to take all the plaudits for the grafting that their forwards put in however, Sexton has changed my mind completely on this.

I don’t know how he manages it, but he just never seems to be under pressure when weighing up his options. He rarely misses a tackle and is not afraid of carrying the ball into the biggest and strongest of defenders.

On Saturday he came across as being a bit frustrated with some of the verdicts handed down by French referee Romain Poite and will need to be careful on how he addresses these decisions going forward. Aside from that and a rather uncharacteristic wayward conversion he was flawless and controlled the game like a great chess master assumes jurisdiction over the board he plays on.

It is two weeks now to the next challenge and the trip across the Irish sea to Twickenham will be Farrell's first venture away from home.

To think that a father will be plotting the downfall of his own son is almost barbaric but when Owen Farrell leads England from the dressing room on to the hallowed surface of Twickenham, his father will be hoping he has a shocker.

Again, I would think that Ireland will go into this game as underdogs and that is just fine because all the pressure will be on the hosts to perform.

So, it’s just like my school reports used to say.

Loads of potential but lots to do.

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