Peter O’Mahony’s steal was Ireland's game-changer

Peter O’Mahony’s steal was Ireland's game-changer
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony flying high.

A TOP-END test match can often be decided by which team has the bigger moments. 

Producing those moments takes character, a bit of luck at times, and then the skill to pull it off. 

As the clock was heading towards the last 20 minutes, and England won a succession of penalties, the writing looked to be on the wall for Ireland when Farrell kicked a penalty just inside the Irish 22. 

This was where England had excelled through the Championship - squeezing teams on their put in. Ireland were blowing, bodies were hurting. 

Until Peter O’Mahony came up with a game-winning moment that will match any of the last few years. 

He beat Maro Itoje in the air and took a clean steal of the English ball. Turnover. And from that, Ireland would go on to win.

There were other moments too, of course, like Healy’s unreal charge in heavy traffic, Luke McGrath’s audacious touch finder off a ruck and Sexton and Henshaw choking out James Haskell, but as far as timing, skill and sheer importance go, O’Mahony’s steal under pressure was immense.

Let’s park, for a moment, the autopsy that will surely happen over the next few months when Ireland look back on the ridiculously costly last 15 minutes against Scotland in Murrayfield. 

This was a Championship lost, make no mistake, but as a team on team clash, this win over England can be seen as a huge encouragement to Irish rugby.

If, for nothing else, the selection decisions that this performance seems to have settled. Payne’s performance in the 15 shirt was hindered by his conditioning, but the threat and playmaking threat he posed from deep was outstanding. That shirt is his to lose, you’d have to say. 

CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony have made a decisive case that they should be the starting 8 and 6 for Ireland in the next window of games - if not for the Lions, too. John Ryan and Niall Scannell nailed down the 16 and 18 shirts and stepped a little closer to the incumbents. Donnacha Ryan showed that he’s one of the best second rows in Europe. 

Henderson put it up to Devin Toner and wildly outperformed what the Leinster man has brought this season. 

Marmion and McGrath showed that all is not lost behind Murray.

All of a sudden, things are looking brighter for Ireland. It’s amazing what a win over the Grand Slam favourites can do.

Chariot Pothole The scoreline flattered England. For the first time in the Six Nations, our defence looked top drawer and the narrow line speed spiked into England’s Ford and Farrell axis with devastating effect. The rest came down to desire. We can get a bit carried away with the technical details about rugby at times - guilty - but it’s still a game of heart. 

A game of will. A game of desire. On Saturday, Ireland showed up and played like men possessed. The collisions on the gain line were car crash stuff, with Donnacha Ryan the wrecker in chief on many occasions. His heavy work on the likes of Lawes and Vunipola was monstrous. That’s where the game was won.

Ireland learned from the heavy leather Wales deployed against England in Cardiff. Stander, Ryan and O’Mahony made a mess of the English breakdown and Youngs, with an armchair ride last week, found himself on the beach in Saving Private Ryan. 

And the onslaught did not let up. In truth, England were rattled by the heavy. Their back row - previously imperious - were limited to small carries here and there by Ireland’s defence. CJ Stander is used to putting Man of the Match vases into this back pocket, but he found room for Billy Vunipola there Saturday.

The late change of Peter O’Mahony to 8 and Stander to 8 seemed to throw England’s set piece defence into disarray. They stood off the Irish lineout while Ireland hit their men throughout the line - was this the no-O’Mahony plan in action? 

If so, it failed, as Ireland enjoyed a world of lineout possession and disrupted the English throw at every turn.

Ireland limited England to 3 potshots at goal and never really looked to be under any 5m pressure. As shutdowns go, it was as stark as any we’ve seen in recent years. England had nothing reliable to fall back on. The scrum was rock solid. Peter O’Mahony scared the life out of their lineout and their loose phases ran into green walls every phase.

The Chariot didn’t just get clamped on Lansdowne Road, it was towed away and dumped.

If only this performance had shown up a week earlier eh? 

Then we might have been celebrating a championship of our own rather than watching England accepting the trophy like they’d all had a spoon of spoiled mayonnaise.

The Scottish result of last week aside, England weren’t as good as the 18 games won in a row suggested. Like ourselves, they beat the worst South African side in 10 years, an up and down Wallabies side, and then the usual suspects of France, Wales, Scotland, Italy and, strangely, Uruguay. 

That doesn’t take away from anything either - they’re still a top class side with excellent players - it just means that the loss of the Championship and even a Slam will feel like a bad opportunity missed.

Still, any day beating England - and beating them up while you’re at it - is a good day. 

With the Championship gone, breaking England’s Slam would have to do. The recriminations can come later, let’s enjoy beating England, cementing 4th place in the World Rankings and build to better.

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