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Resilient Ireland end with day to savour against England

Ireland 13 England 9

By Jonathan Bradley

Even after ending the 2017 Six Nations on a resoundingly high note with defeat of England on Saturday night, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admitted it would be a championship he looked back on with more than a hint of frustration.

Eddie Jones' men arrived in Dublin on St Patrick's Day weekend with history on their minds as they chased a second consecutive Grand Slam and 19th straight victory but they were met by defiance from hosts who were determined to spoil the party.

Ulsterman Iain Henderson, who enjoyed his finest game of the season when returned to the starting side, scored the game's only try in the first half, while Peter O'Mahony excelled despite only learning he would start five minutes before kick-off when Jamie Heaslip went down in the warm-up.

And while it was a thunderously competitive Test match, Ireland's defence saw them home as Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell traded efforts of the tee.

It was a day to savour for the Irish fans who roared their way through the contest from start to finish, but it left Schmidt bemoaning the "fine margins" that didn't go Ireland's way earlier in the campaign.

Despite a horrendously flat opening half against Scotland, they had the lead late in Murrayfield and would have done so too against Wales in Cardiff last week only for Robbie Henshaw's rush of blood when illegally entering what looked to be a scoring drive.

They ultimately lost both when a win in either game would have at least meant the championship crown was still in play this weekend.

"There is a degree of frustration and a fair element of pride," said Schmidt (below) of the last seven weeks. "I think no matter what happened it was always going to be a very tight championship.

"I think we were consistent four weeks in a row.

"We were pretty good against Wales, I know there were some errors.

"We were clearly disappointed with that first 30 minutes in Murrayfield, and that's no disrespect to Scotland because I am delighted for them that they did really well in the championship.

"I think we were consistent, it is just those fine margins. We won 13-9 (against England), we were down 15-9 when we drove over the line with 12 minutes to go against Wales. They are incredibly fine margins.

"Those frustrations will continue in the overall review of the championship and at the same time, it is incredibly positive to finish on a note like that because that was a monumental challenge."

It will be an interesting few months ahead for both Schmidt and his squad.

Results over the weekend mean Ireland will be one of the top band of seeds for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and, safe in the knowledge that they have done their best to avoid a "pool of death", can now really start to build towards that tournament.

Those not involved on the Lions tour to New Zealand will get an early trip to the Land of the Rising Sun when Ireland travel for two Tests in June with another trip stateside also on the cards as they meet USA in New Jersey.

Just like last summer's clashes with the Springboks, we can expect to see some new faces widen the playing pool.

"The coaches, we are really excited about the tour," Schmidt added. "South Africa was incredibly important to where we are now. I think it is probably overlooked by a lot of the people now but if you look at some of the people who toured in South Africa, they are incredibly important to us now.

"Paddy Jackson for example, that is where he really got his playing rhythm back in the national side in starting teams.

"I think from there we have also had a few guys come in in November and a few guys come in in the Championship.

"So you look forward to seeing those guys step up, but as I always say it is never linear, it never just moves upwards.

"One of the frustrations that I didn't use to experience coaching week to week with club or provinces is that I now don't see the players for another two or three months and when we all get together we inevitably start from scratch."

Not quite scratch. Having ended England's winning streak at 18, their own now stands at one.

Ireland: J Payne; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, K Marmion; J McGrath, R Best (captain), T Furlong; D Ryan, I Henderson; Peter O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander

Replacements: N Scannell (for Best, 72), C Healy (for McGrath, 59), J Ryan (for Furlong, 75), D Toner (for Ryan, 64), D Leavy (for O'Brien, 65), L McGrath (for Marmion, 68), P Jackson, A Conway (for Earls, 40).

England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (captain), D Cole; J Launchbury, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Haskell, B Vunipola.

Replacements: J George (for Hartley, 55), M Vunipola (for Marler, 40), K Sinckler (for Cole, 77), T Wood (for Haskell, 60), N Hughes (for Vunipola, 63), D Care (for Ben Youngs, 64), B Te'o (for Ford, 62), J Nowell (for Joseph, 67)

Referee: Jerome Garces

Man of the match: Peter O'Mahony

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