MOVE over Ireland’s golden generation because the new kids on the block have started to deliver silver service.
Joe Schmidt saw his side crowned Six Nations kings on Saturday for the third time in five years and admitted nothing would compare with the first.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt
But he will surely revise his opinion if the current crop adds to the silverware secured at the weekend by completing a Grand Slam against England at Twickenham.
When Schmidt took over in 2013 he could still count on stalwarts such as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell.
They are just two of five Ireland players to have won more than 100 caps and, along with other legends such as Ronan O’Gara and John Hayes, were mainstays in the 2009 Grand Slam team.
Schmidt believes that the class of 2018 are of a similar stature.
Ireland rugby legends Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll
The Kiwi said: “By pure evidence of performance and results, I think you’d have to say so.
“Three in five years, there are some very consistent personnel during that period — Rory Best, Peter O’Mahony, Jonathan Sexton, Devin Toner, Cian Healy and Jack McGrath.
“There’s Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton obviously, they have been incredibly consistent, and so has Rob Kearney.
“Keith Earls — I am delighted for Keith Earls because he probably would have had two other ones but he was injured.
Rob Kearney in action against Scotland
“It’s fantastic for him to grab what he really deserves and then there’s this young crew.
“James Ryan doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Six Nations.
“There’s kids like that who need to understand that this doesn’t happen very often. This is incredibly tough to do and the opportunity that exists next week is really precious.”
But Schmidt stopped short of saying Ryan was in O’Connell’s class even though the Leinster lock has, at 21, won a title when, at the same age, the Limerick man had yet to make his Ireland debut.
Schmidt said: “Look, I’d never weigh someone down with that weighty a label. Having worked with Paul O’Connell, he is exceptional. Was James Ryan exceptional on Saturday? Absolutely. Was he incredibly good against France? I believe he was.
Schmidt heaped praise on James Ryan
“Thirteen carries and 13 tackles on Saturday — to top those two counts is an outstanding performance from a very young man in the tight forward position.
“It’s not like he’s come in as a fleet-footed back like Jordan Larmour or Jacob Stockdale.
“You’re excited about what he’s delivering. I don’t mind putting that weight of responsibility on James and saying, ‘You’ve got to keep going forward James, because there’s other guys here’ — but I certainly wouldn’t label him with the world-class label of Paul O’Connell. Not just yet.”
But Ireland are being boosted by a new breed of players who were inspired by the exploits of O’Connell and Co almost a decade ago.
Dan Leavy said: “It was so long ago, I can’t really remember but it is always coming up on clips and stuff so it’d be special.”
Fellow 23-year-old Garry Ringrose added: “I was in second year in school. I think I just watched it with my family at the time. It would be amazing to be part of something like that.”
Schmidt was quick to praise both players.
Centre Ringrose was making his first Ireland appearance of the season after, first, a shoulder and, then, an ankle injury.
Garry Ringrose enjoyed a brilliant return to international duty
The coach beamed: “Ninety running metres, 11 tackles, a massive work ethic and a really smart performance in a lot of ways.
“I’m excited about some of the young guys who’ve come in. I thought Dan Leavy was big again and worked incredibly hard.
“He didn’t get it all right but there’s some fantastic things that were highly visible that he got absolutely nailed on.”
After O’Mahony was drafted in at the last minute to take Jamie Heaslip’s place against England last year, Leavy came off the bench to help Ireland deny Eddie Jones’s men the Grand Slam.
Ireland will now take on England with a Grand Slam in their sights
Flanker Leavy said: “The Irish-English games are huge regardless of what’s on the line.
“You always go out to win regardless of the situation. If we hadn’t won one game we were still going to go out to win.
“It’s huge and they will want to get one back at us after what we did last year.”
When told Ireland were looking to win in London and Paris in the same year for the first time since 1972, Leavy said: “You just made me really nervous. I’m only messing. It’s a game of rugby.
“There’s more on the line but it doesn’t change my approach. I will just go out and do the best I can. Hopefully we’ll get some silverware at the end.”
Jacob Stockdale crosses the line for his second try against Scotland on Saturday
Of course, that is already secure and Schmidt claimed, a little unconvincingly, that he would have settled for one Six Nations title in five seasons in charge when he was asked which of the three meant the most.
He harked back to the first because it was secured by Ireland in Paris rather than waiting on how England fared there, as was the case both in 2015 and now.
Schmidt said: “Dare I say it, 2014 is probably the most special because we won it the moment we finished the game. We won it with the guys on the pitch at the time.
“In 2015, we were in suits shouting at Ugo Antonio to keep the ball and not let it squirt out because England might score and the Championship could be lost so we are cheering on one team to beat another.
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“We had no control and Saturday was a little bit similar, the same two teams, to give us that clear air to go to Twickenham with the Championship.
“For me it is an incredible relief and incredibly satisfying because of how hard the players have worked and I’ll probably even broaden that to the management.
“Then there is the support we have in the Aviva, which again was super.”