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How Farrell built on the Schmidt legacy to drive Ireland’s evolution

Ireland’s route to the top of the world and tomorrow’s Grand Slam decider in Dublin has been all about breathing space.

Johnny Sexton has learned to take it easy on referees, and head coach Andy Farrell has worked out how to lighten the load on the Ireland squad.

Rory Best captained Ireland to the 2018 Grand Slam at the peak of boss Joe Schmidt’s glittering tenure. The former Lions hooker believes Ireland needed Schmidt’s famous taskmaster ways to set standards in discipline and rigour, but hailed Farrell for easing the pressure to storm to the top of the world rankings.

Ulster stalwart Best and former Leinster full-back Rob Kearney are Ireland’s only two-time Grand Slam winners, but a slew of others will join them if Ireland beat England tomorrow. Sexton can secure a fairytale Six Nations farewell by claiming the Grand Slam on his final tournament appearance.

The 37-year-old should also pass Ronan O’Gara’s record Six Nations points haul, with Ireland aiming to complete a Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time — and all on St Patrick’s weekend.

“Johnny has given so much to Ireland,” Best told Standard Sport. “And it hasn’t always been plain sailing for him. When he first took the captaincy, people were questioning his conduct with referees and body language.

“He’s worked very hard to become the leader that he is, and that’s why he deserves everything he could get on Saturday. What he had to change was just the optics, keeping his composure a little better with referees. He sees the game quicker, better and differently from anyone else.

“Where he’s matured out of sight as a captain and leader is realising that just because you see it straight away doesn’t mean everyone else will, and that the art of it is to bring people with you. And what Andy Farrell has done has been to allow people to be okay to make mistakes.”

Kiwi coach Schmidt turned Ireland’s fortunes on their head in six years at the Ireland helm, with Best hailing the former boss’s enduring impact.

“Joe came in and was trying to change a team,” said Best. “We were a team that was inconsistent, if you gave us downtime, we completely took the foot off the pedal, so he had to drive something to bring consistency.

“The amount of times you see a new coach follow on from an old coach and they decide that they need to completely reinvent the wheel. The biggest mistake coaches make, I think, is they forget to remember what the good things were and build on that, and then change things slightly. But that’s exactly what Faz has done.”

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