O’Halloran’s Rugby: The Grand Slam Is On, But Only With A Fit Sexton

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Mike and Deirdre O Halloran

Mike O’Halloran with his daughter Deirdre at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

Our rugby writer, Mike O’Halloran, was in the Aviva Stadium yesterday for Ireland’s clash with the ‘old enemy’…

During the week prior to this game I was told that the two tickets I had for this game would buy me a small car.

Phrases like ‘name your price’ were mentioned. I took the train and I did not hear any shouts or whispers of “anyone buying or selling a ticket.”

In fact the mood around the city prior to the game was muted – perhaps dampened by a fall of snow – but there certainly was not the hype you come to expect when Ireland play England in Dublin.

Ireland gave England a lesson in The Aviva Stadium on Sunday and were worthy, if nervous winners. One would think a nine point win over the English would raise the cockles of any irish supporters heart, but it did not feel like that in the stadium.

The atmosphere was not what I expected. Lots of reasons were given by people I spoke to after the game. The game was on a Sunday afternoon, which for some strange reason does not suit the rugby going public.

I think the main reason was that from the moment Joe decided to replace Jonathan Sexton with Madigan, the Irish team and faithful saw how England came back into the game and made for a tense final quarter.

Sexton bossed this game from the start until he was withdrawn. He took two spokes out of the chariots wheels early on when landed the first penalty and then landed a huge hit on young Ford the English fly half. The message of “I’m the boss here” ┬áseemed to have been given.

Billy Vunipola destroyed Munster in the Saracens massacre, but today he was chopped at every opportunity by both backs and forwards. Ireland lost Sean O’Brien but his replacement, Munster man Tommy O’Donnell more than filled his boots.

The game was over from the minute Robbie Henshaw showed his Gaelic skills and gathered on the try line to touch down, and were it not for Sexton’s retirement, the margin would have been wider and the event junkies would have been able to leave the stadium earlier than five minutes before the end.

I was cautious a while ago about Ireland’s chances of winning the 6 Nations, I think now that they have a great chance of winning the Grand Slam but there is a big but.

If Sexton is not able to play in the two remaining games Ireland will struggle.

Make no mistake this is a great Irish team, Paul O’Connell is quoted as suggesting it may be one of the greatest Irish teams ever, but without Sexton they are like a car running on dirty petrol; it might get you home but you couldn’t depend on it.

Wales are next up and a win in Cardiff is the true test of the character of this team, a win there and then a defeat of Wooden Spoon contenders will see Paul O Connell handle his last trophy for Ireland.

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