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Furlong and Healy pivotal as scrum dominance proved key in sealing Grand Slam

By Cian Tracey

England arrived at Twickenham on Saturday looking to bully Ireland up front, but those days are long gone. With a pack as destructive as the eight Joe Schmidt has moulded, it was the visitors who turned the tables on the 2017 Six Nations champions.

Ireland's current group of forwards are a hugely effective unit that now cause opposition teams sleepless nights.

Greg Feek's impressive work since becoming scrum coach in 2014 is now paying rich dividends and the IRFU's foresight to introduce an Elite Scrummaging Programme the year before has helped to develop an abundance of options.

The emergence of Tadhg Furlong as unquestionably the best tighthead in the world has of course helped Ireland build strong foundations off the set-piece, but it is also worth acknowledging Cian Healy, who has rediscovered the kind of form that had people talking about him as the number one loosehead around.

The Leinster prop was perilously close to having his career cruelly cut short by a serious neck injury, but his resilience to bounce back has been remarkable.

Locking down the scrum has allowed Schmidt to launch his intricate strike plays.

Ireland lost just one scrum out of their 37 across the competition, as well as winning a couple against the head, which is a fair achievement for a pack that refuse to take a backwards step.

Perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Schmidt's side were so dominant at scrum-time, because in last year's Six Nations they won all 31 of their scrums. One hundred percent records against Fiji, admittedly not a scrummaging superpower, followed an outstanding display against the Springboks.

Casting the mind further back to the summer's tour of America and Japan, Schmidt was handed an ideal opportunity to test different options.

This gave Healy the platform to re-establish himself as Ireland's first-choice loosehead.

"He really grew when I saw him in Japan on tour, and he just started taking charge," Feek said of Healy's resurgence.

"It was just a natural thing. He talked and everyone listened. They all responded and it looked like he flourished on that."

Andrew Porter and James Ryan also made their Ireland debuts on the summer tour and have gone from strength to strength.

The power that Ryan has been generating behind the front-row has also been crucial to Ireland's scrum.

That's something that Paul O'Connell spoke about recently when asked about the power and indeed strength-in-depth of the Ireland front-five.

"It is amazing at the moment," the former captain said.

"I think everyone used to talk about the enforcer in rugby in the number four lock. That's gone out of the game really.

"It is just about being technically excellent at the breakdown, at the scrum, at the maul, at maul defence.

"The prop situation is amazing from where we were five years ago.

"It goes back to that South Africa game when we won that first Test and Joe made five changes for the second Test. It's all been about building depth."

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