Ireland’s third NatWest 6 Nations title in five years would simply not have been possible without a raft of key moments keeping the championship bid alive.
Here, Press Association Sport examines a clutch of turning points.
Ireland were coasting in their opening-round clash against France in Paris, that was until Teddy Thomas scythed off the wing, bisected the cover and skipped between the posts. But just when Ireland looked to have snatched defeats from the jaws of victory for the second time running in France, up popped Sexton with a nerveless, 45-metre drop-goal that won the day. Ireland built some 41 phases in a final-play winning move that extended into the third minute of overtime. Ireland hardly merited victory, but on such stunning rescue missions are title triumphs founded.
Not until the final throes of Ireland’s 37-27 win over Wales in Dublin were Schmidt’s men able to gain total control. At no point before the closing stages had Ireland nailed down the win. So when free-scoring wing Stockdale picked off Gareth Anscombe’s pass and powered home, the entire Aviva Stadium breathed a severe sigh of relief.
Though Ireland eventually subdued Scotland by four tries to one for a 28-8 victory, the visitors bungled a host of clear-cut scoring chances that could have entirely altered the game’s complexion. Munster flanker O’Mahony produced a momentous performance of grit and industry throughout, battling manfully to nullify Scotland’s clear contact-area advantage. O’Mahony pulled off a fine stunning tackle on wing Blair Kinghorn that saved a try-scoring chance, but not finished there though, he leapt to his feet and forced a turnover penalty. At the top of the second-half, this was a vital intervention, with Ireland only leading 14-3.
Ireland have spent large swathes of this tournament bulldozing through phases but at points struggling to finish off moves swiftly. No such trouble against the Welsh, with five tries the fruit of an attack-heavy performance. There could be no better tour de force than Sexton’s flat, fast and defence-splitting pass that sent Stockdale walking into the corner for his first of two tries in the 37-27 victory over Warren Gatland’s side either.
Fit-again Ringrose had only played an hour’s rugby since January with Leinster before this encounter. It never showed. Not one jot. Instead the 23-year-old scythed and stepped through the Scotland defence on several occasions. And then he forced a runaround off Bundee Aki to fire a bullet pass to send Stockdale home for a score that all-but sealed Ireland’s 28-8 win over Scotland.