Funny how history can repeat itself. There was Joe Schmidt in 2014, two wins from two against Celtic rivals in his first championship and Ireland heading to Twickenham to see could they deliver a Triple Crown. 

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Six years later and his successor Andy Farrell is in the exact same position at his first attempt, two from two versus the Celts and London-bound with that same trophy on the line. 

It didn’t work out for Schmidt on his particular trip, despite Rob Kearney running a sweet line for a quite memorable try that a certain Andy Farrell can’t have forgotten given he was England’s defence coach at the time. 

But now he is on the other side of the divide, all set to plot the downfall of an opposition skippered by his own son, Owen. Not even Hollywood could make this stuff up.  

“We’re in a great place,” he chirped on Saturday evening at the Aviva before heading off to catch a glimpse of England’s soap bar slugfest in Scotland.

(Continue reading below…)

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton react to Ireland’s win over Wales

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“We’ve had two wins… but we know with the boys sat in the changing room after a bonus-point win there is still plenty more in us and that is what we will be looking forward to.”

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Farrell will have every reason to feel it will be mission possible. Winning at Twickenham isn’t something Ireland have been shy of during the Six Nations, taking the spoils in four of their ten championship visits and sealing the 2018 Grand Slam when last there on spring duty. Here are a number of examples that are  fuelling his optimism: 

An Exeter-type no kick at the posts mentality

The Chiefs made a policy in their 2018/19 Premiership season of turning down shots at goal in favour of trying to manufacture something more than just score three points off the tee, and Ireland showed some signs of a similarly ambitious mould versus Wales with Johnny Sexton’s decision making. 

Yes, it was windy at the Aviva on Saturday but instead of kicking even a single shot and trying to build scoreboard pressure in that way, as they had done the previous week when Sexton finished four from five off the penalty kicking tee, there was a clear appetite in the conditions to open up a fresh box of tricks and see what might otherwise be manufactured inside the 22. 

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Whereas against the Scots their three-minute 40-second stay in the 22 yielded just a solitary try, their six minutes 38 seconds in the Welsh red zone was far more rewarding. They had their frustrations with chances lost but they had the patience to not get hung up over those mishaps and stick at it with various long or short and slick moves. 

Look at the opening try, multiple pick-and-drive around the corner in the 78 seconds it took to turn Rob Herring’s lineout throw into a Jordan Larmour try. Same with the penalty advantage off the five-metre scrum, Tadhg Furlong getting himself smartly up off the deck to ensure he was driving over two rucks later – just 25 seconds in total between Conor Murray’s feed and referee Romain Poite signalling the try. 

Five seconds was all it then took for Ireland to maul over for their third off Herring’s smart lineout to the front-of-line James Ryan and then came the bonus, scrum ball that took 37 seconds to work from one side of the pitch to the other via four rucks for Andrew Conway to successfully work an edge. 

All in all, some excellent variety and potency in what to do in the zone that really matters. 

Liberally sharing around the kicking duties 

Sexton made a note post-match in taking to task the critics who have grown tired of Murray’s dependable box kicking routine. “Sometimes when you do something so well then suddenly everyone gets sick of it and starts giving out about it but it won us the game, the few box kicks he did in the second half that created pressure on them were outstanding in such tough conditions.”

No one was arguing with him but the most interesting thing about Ireland’s overall approach was the point of difference outside Murray who kicked for 220 metres according to AWS, the provider of official Six Nations match statistics. Rather than Sexton also putting loads of boot to ball, the Irish back three merrily chipped in and helped greatly vary the way they worked their way up the field. 

Conway on the wing, for instance, kicked for 86 metres, two more than Sexton, Jacob Stockdale on the other wing accounted for 74 and full-back Larmour chalked up 110. In contrast, Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny managed only 64 metres while both starting wings and Josh Adams’ replacement Johnny McNicholl didn’t kick at all, that task left instead to the half-backs Dan Biggar and Tomos Williams who kicked a respective 118 and 125 metres. 

Farrell’s spin on certain players

What you want from a new coach is to see improvements, to look at things from a different perspective. Take Robbie Henshaw. Schmidt was never much of a fan running him in the wider No13 channel, but it was always felt he could pose more of an attacking threat out there than in the narrower confines of a crash ball carrying 12. 

Admittedly, he might have only got his start at 13 due to Garry Ringrose’s finger injury versus the Scots and Henshaw himself fell victim to this revolving injury door by not coming back from HIA five minutes into the second half versus Wales. Before that he has influenced the game differently, making a reported 90 metres off ten carries. No mean feat.  

Then there was the situation at hooker. Herring never got much of a look in under Schmidt, just eight caps – mostly as a sub and none in the Six Nations – as Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell were the preferred alternatives to Rory Best.

Yet, eleven weeks shy of his 30th birthday, the outsider has now belatedly come of age and has provided a greater ball-carrying impetus than the now-retired veteran skipper did in his last season. Across his two starts, Herring made 60 metres off 13 carries. That eclipsed the 38 metres off eleven carries Best managed in his four Six Nations starts in 2019. 

Even Johnny is learning unusual new things 

Sexton might have been a veteran of 89 Ireland caps and a half-dozen more with the Lions heading into the game versus Wales, but even the wizened 34-year-old learned a lesson about how not to prepare to a match.   

Rather than fulfil his duties as skipper and introduce his team to Irish president Michael D Higgins, he instead had to make his apologies and allow Peter O’Mahony step into the role as he had made a mess of getting the knee that sidelined him for eight weeks ready to play. 

“My strapping just slipped off,” he explained in the aftermath of his 90th Irish cap. “I stupidly got a rub before I got strapped and I was all oily. Lessons learned. I had to strap it again at half-time as well. The physios weren’t too happy with me. But Pete did a great job introducing the president to all the players.”

WATCH: Ever wondered what the Aviva Stadium is like behind the scenes on matchday? The RugbyPass Game Day documentary gives a unique insight, everything from groundsmen to chefs, to the coaches and players themselves

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