Joe Schmidt: the mastermind of Ireland's rise up the rugby rankings
JOE SCHMIDT: THE MASTERMIND OF IRELAND'S RISE UP THE RANKINGS
Exacting Ireland boss Joe Schmidt's almost constant battle is to keep his devilish detail under wraps, to protect his coaching formula from prying eyes.
But every now and then his lets his avuncular demeanour slip, just slightly, to offer a more revealing portrait of a smiling mastermind at work.
Former schoolteacher Schmidt's shtick for fending off enquiries into Ireland's inner workings starts with a smile, then quickly spreads to misdirection.
Distract them with kindness, then nudge the answer to the question towards a catalogue of future opponents. By the time Schmidt has finished listing the weekend's most threatening players, sometimes the inquisitor has lost their train of thought.
Just another impressively efficient tactic from a taskmaster coach who has built this Grand Slam-winning Ireland team entirely in his image.
And the result is that precious few kernels of his intellectual coaching property escape Ireland's "bubble", as he so often terms the national side's set-up.
In the bowels of a snow-capped Twickenham, with all Ireland's Six Nations foes laid waste however, Schmidt had no option but to reveal a golden nugget of truth that underscores his fervour for mining rugby's minutiae.
Ireland's second try in Saturday's 24-15 win over England that sealed just a third-ever Grand Slam came courtesy of a classic Schmidt training-ground ruse.
Like a Gridiron coach with a 300-page play book, Schmidt dreams up set moves, then tailors them to unpick specific opponents' defences.
So when Tadhg Furlong took a pass in midfield on a runaround off Johnny Sexton, and sent Bundee Aki crashing through England's defensive line, there was no ounce of luck.
Ireland had just pulled off the most ludicrous of all lineout back peels, because once upon a time a tighthead prop had no business acting like a centre off a set-piece. CJ Stander finished off the break, and Ireland were en route to a Grand Slam to stand alongside the triumphs of 1948 and 2009.
There are no limits to Schmidt's invention, this so very necessary cornerstone of his coaching.
That restless relentlessness has carried him to greatness within Ireland.
Ireland reserve hooker Sean Cronin last week hailed Schmidt as the world's greatest coach. The former Bay of Plenty boss now has the springboard to prove just that at next year's World Cup.
"We played the identical move against England three years ago in Dublin, and Robbie Henshaw went through and fell over," said Schmidt, referring back to Ireland's 19-9 Six Nations win over England in 2015.
"They are the only two times we've played it. The way they come up defensively we thought it would work again."
Only in the wake of a Grand Slam triumph would Schmidt have lifted the lid, just a crack, on his coaching mindset.
"Sometimes you get double jeopardy, you think 'they might do this, we might do that'," Schmidt added, of the move that led to Stander's stunning try.
"And then they think, we think...I give up, then."
But he does not give up, he does nothing of the sort.
PETER O'MAHONY GIVES AWAY HIS 6 NATIONS WINNER'S MEDAL
- TO YOUNG IRELAND FAN JENNIFER MALONE.
Ireland overwhelmed England 24-15 at Twickenham on Saturday, to sweep to just their third Grand Slam in history.
And afterwards Munster flanker Peter O'Mahony met up with Ireland supporter Jennifer Malone, well-liked by Joe Schmidt's squad, and gave her his medal marking the 2018 triumph.
"Yes my sister got to lift the Six Nations trophy today in Twickenham and got Peter O'Mahony's medal and yes I am extremely jealous," Jennifer's sister Rachel posted on Twitter.
Ireland star O'Mahony captained the British and Irish Lions in their first Test on last summer's tour of New Zealand, and with 47 caps remains central to head coach Schmidt's line-up.
The 28-year-old back-rower is often seen chatting to Jennifer Malone and posing for pictures with her at Ireland's Carton House training base.
O'Mahony's kind gesture to give away his winner's medal serves to underscore the depth of appreciation Schmidt's players and staff have for the support they have received throughout their successful Six Nations campaign.
Jennifer is an athlete in her own right and a multiple medallist at the Special Olympics: Ireland Games in 2016.
Afterwards Special Olympics Ireland tweeted: ''Our very own Rugby superfan Jennifer Malone got this special tribute from Peter O; Mahony @peterom6. This is the true spirit of sport.''.
Ireland leapfrogged England into second place in the world rankings during their third Six Nations triumph in five years.
Rob Kearney and Rory Best became the first men in Irish history to win two Grand Slams, while Ireland are now on a record run of 12 consecutive Test victories.
MAYOR OF WEXFORD
Tadhg Furlong "defies logic" with his all-court brand of power play and finesse, according to Garry Ringrose.
Midfielder Ringrose insisted Furlong could no longer escape his Mayor of Wexford nickname after his masterful inside-centre impression in Ireland's Grand Slam triumph at Twickenham.
Leinster prop Furlong conjured one of Saturday's key moments as Ireland overwhelmed England 24-15 to claim just their third-ever NatWest 6 Nations Grand Slam.
The British and Irish Lions star created the extra man in midfield to send Bundee Aki crashing through England's defensive line, before CJ Stander claimed Ireland's second try.
And Ringrose admitted Furlong's role in Ireland's third-ever Grand Slam means he will have to learn to love the nickname he has never yet warmed to.
"Oh he's just the humble farmer from Wexford, but he's going to have to take that nickname a bit more now, definitely!" said Ringrose, of Furlong's moniker.
"We'd run that move a couple of times in training, and Tadhg defies logic for a tighthead with how mobile he is and the deft skills he has.
"I was chasing on the outside of Bundee (Aki), who did exceptionally well to find CJ (Stander) on his inside, and he too was able to produce a very intelligent finish against the post."
Ringrose had to fight for fitness to play any part in Ireland's Six Nations at all. An ankle problem suffered in January almost kept him out of the tournament, but the 23-year-old recovered in time to star in the 28-8 win over Scotland, and then Saturday's stunning Twickenham triumph.
Ringrose revealed he watched Johnny Sexton's match-winning drop-goal in the 15-13 win over France in Paris in The Bridge, the Ballsbridge pub part-owned by Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Rob and Dave Kearney.
"I'm well aware I'm extremely lucky to be in the position I am," said Ringrose.
"If Chris (Farrell) and Robbie (Henshaw) hadn't picked up injuries I probably wouldn't have been here.
"I won't forget how lucky I am. From my point of view it was about trying to come in and fit in, as opposed to bat the lights out of it in any way shape or form. Just build on the foundations the other lads had put in.
"I was in The Bridge with a couple of the Leinster lads to watch the France match.
"That was a pretty memorable moment, for anyone who's in any way associated with rugby in Ireland, and one I won't forget.
"So from that to winning the Grand Slam, on St Patrick's Day and at Twickenham, it was incredible stuff.
"From my point of view for the week coming into it, it was about trying to forget about that and it was just another game.
"As tough an opposition as it is, it was about asserting ourselves personally and getting the basics covered.
"The lap of honour was pretty special, my parents and girlfriend were over so it was nice to be able to share those moments with them."
JACOB STOCKDALE MADE SIX NATIONS HISTORY
Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale made Six Nations history as he became the first person to record seven tries in a single campaign.
The 21-year-old has risen to the fore in recent weeks and his try against England at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon carried Ireland to the brink of only their third grand slam.
English pair Will Greenwood and and Chris Ashton and Wales' Shane Williams have all previously recorded six tries in a single Six Nations tournament but Stockdale now sits alone.
England's Cyril Lowe and Scotland's Ian Smith hold the competition record - when it was known as the Five Nations - with eight tries.
England v Ireland
England: Watson, May, Joseph, Te'o, Daly, Farrell, Wigglesworth,
Vunipola, Hartley, Sinckler, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell,
Replacements: George, Marler, Cole, Launchbury, Armand, Care,
Ireland: Kearney, Earls, Ringrose, Aki, Stockdale, Sexton,
Murray, Healy, Best, Furlong, J. Ryan, Henderson, O'Mahony,
Replacements: S. Cronin, J. McGrath, Porter, Toner, Murphy,
Marmion, Carbery, Larmour.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)