Ireland got the job done today with a four-try display in front of another sell-out home crowd. Jacob Stockdale bagged a first half brace – including another intercept effort – as he took his stunning tally to ten tries in eight Tests. Trailing 14-3 at half-time, Scotland stayed in the hunt with a Blair Kinghorn try cancelling out a Conor Murray touchdown off a maul.
But a 68th-minute lineout drive provided the platform for replacement hooker Sean Cronin to scramble over for the clinching bonus point score, as Schmidt’s side set a new Irish record of 11 Test wins in-a-row, beating the previous best run from 2002-2003.
It was a day to remember for Rob Kearney as he produced a man-of-the-match performance from full-back. Kearney and captain Best are the two links back to Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning squad of 2009, and the evergreen pair will pick up their fourth Six Nations winners’ medals in a week’s time.
Speaking about what it means to the current crop of players to be crowned champions, Schmidt said: “From a wider squad perspective, it is particularly satisfying. Joe van der Flier will be delighted. The players have worked hard to get a medal for Josh, the players have worked hard to get a medal for Robbie (Henshaw) and for Chris (Farrell).
“There’s a number of guys who won’t be playing in Twickenham, but are certainly right behind the squad. At the same time, there’s some players who you haven’t seen on the pitch who have worked incredibly hard.
“This will be week number eight but for some players it’s only week two. Garry Ringrose has just joined us and did a super job today so you’re always trying to blend in new players. That was Jordi Murphy’sfirst run-out and I thought he was outstanding coming off the bench. He carried really well and was very good in defence.
“(The players) do stay in that bubble. It’s very difficult to completely isolate yourself because some of that pressure is coming internally – it’s not just the external talk that’s out there. It’s our expectation of ourselves that we turn up and we’re really competitive next week.”
The New Zealander noted: “There are plenty of knocks but no injuries, one of the good things is we made a few tactical subs but none of them were really injury induced. There are some pretty tired bodies there, I think Scotland made 190 tackles and we made 135 – that suggests that there was a fair bit of collision stuff out there, and it was very hard work post-tackle as well.
“I have a sense it was a bit of a one-score game. It was a 20-point result in a one-score game because Scotland probably butchered a couple of really good chances. I think we made twice as many line-breaks as them, so I don’t think the result should tip the other way but I do think they were very close to getting right away a couple of times.
“I think there were a couple of players who worked incredibly hard. I thought James Ryan was immense again, he made 13 tackles and had 13 ball carries. CJ Stander had 12 tackles and 12 ball carries. I think Garry had 90 running metres, 11 tackles, covered the ground incredibly well for a guy who is probably not up to full fitness. I thought he was super.
“Rob Kearney, obviously. I think he had 140 running metres with the ball – that’s exceptional in any game. Early in the game he did really well contesting the high ball, he almost got away to create that score at one stage. But on the back of that, we created the score with a little set play which worked out really well. I think the scrum was really solid, we had some good lineout defence too.”
Jonathan Sexton, who converted all four tries against Scotland, added: “Credit to the management team for being able to prepare us with so many changes. I think if you said at the start of the season that you’re going to win a Championship without Josh, Sean (O’Brien), Jamie Heaslip, Rhys Ruddock, Robbie Henshaw, and then to lose Chris Farrell as well, and there’s others in that list as well…
“It’s great though, building forward into World Cups and before that, the Championship next year, that we’ve built a bit of depth. That’s been done over the last couple of years, it’s great that it’s so seamless at times. But we know that the biggest challenge is ahead still (against England).
“It’s very muted upstairs. It’s a very strange feeling to win the Championship with a game to go, and so much still to play for. We know how difficult it’s going to be with England. The shoe is on the other foot after last year and I’m sure they will be licking their lips.”