Ireland's player of the tournament all but decided already 8 months ago

Ireland's player of the tournament all but decided already

Ireland have the chance to win the Grand Slam on St Patrick's Day.

It has, of course, been a monumental team effort. With injuries causing their fair share of havoc, Joe Schmidt has been forced to explore the resources available to him to keep the Ireland squad fit and fresh.

There have been a number of outstanding contributions. Jacob Stockdale is a try-scoring machine, Conor Murray has been typically brilliant while Keith Earls has looked razor-sharp throughout the championship.

Injury woes have, at times, threatened to derail Ireland's bid for supremacy, but this side has proven how vigorous and resilient it really is.

Of course, a shot at the Grand Slam wouldn't be possible had it not been for Johnny Sexton's ingenuity and precision, kicking that drop goal to capture a last-gasp win over France in the opener. Had Sexton not stepped up to the plate at such a critical juncture, Ireland may well have seen their championship hopes extinguished.

Sexton's brilliance goes beyond that memorable kick, though. He has been a crucial presence in this Ireland side throughout. As both a leader and this team's creative fulcrum, he has shone brilliantly.

Because of that, he is a strong contender for Player of the Tournament.

"We have to talk about the man of the tournament in my view, Sexton," Kev McLaughlin said on The Hard Yards.

"He's the key to us having a chance at winning the Grand Slam because he's played pretty much every minute. When is the last time Johnny has gone four games in a row without getting a knock?"

Of course, we know that Sexton has not been operating at 100%. The fly-half has had to be careful with managing some back spasms which have forced him to skip a few training sessions.

"To be honest, he hasn't been kicking too well," James Downey offered in response. "But while his kicking hasn't been all there, the rest of his game has been brilliant."

Sexton is right though. The biggest challenge lies ahead. Overcoming a bruised and therefore most-likely-fired-up England looking to bounce back after a whimpering defeat to Scotland will be no mean feat.

In fact, it's going to be mightily difficult. However, with the confidence and morale that's currently coursing through this Irish crop's veins, there is every reason to believe that they will get the job done at Twickenham.

With Sexton there, pulling the string as ever, we'll always have a fighting chance. One more herculean shift from the Leinster man and it will be extremely difficult to give the Player of the Tournament gong to anyone else. He's the clear frontrunner and it's difficult to see anyone surpassing him with one massive game left.