As we creep ever closer to Saturday afternoon when Ireland take on England at Twickenham, the chance for an Irish Grand Slam looms. Ireland have already been crowned champions after England slumped to their second defeat on the bounce against Scotland and France respectively. As any rugby fan will tell you, it’s the Grand Slam that all the nations want, a defeat in London will really break the hearts of the Irish fans and certainly put a dampener on their championship celebrations. Joe Schmidt’s side will want to make it a St Patricks Day to remember and win the Grand Slam which they haven’t been able to achieve since 2009.
It all could have been so different for the Irish however if we look back to the first game of the championship at the Stade de France when a dramatic late drop goal from Jonny Sexton in the 82nd minute give them the victory against a very well organised French side. It’s moments like this which can make or break a championship but Ireland kicked on from this and were simply brilliant. It has been a faultless championship from the Irish after making light work of the Italians in Dublin, getting a bonus point win over the Welsh and dismantling the Scottish.
There have been quite a few Irish players who have stood out this time around, the likes of Jonny Sexton, Keith Earls or Peter O’Mahony but for me, Jacob Stockdale has been world class. The Ulster winger is new to the Ireland team and prior to today’s game, has only had eight caps.
He has been in tremendous form in this year’s tournament scoring a brace of tries against Italy, Wales and Scotland, equalling the record for the most tries scored by any player in the 6 Nations and still with a game left to play. He is an exciting young talent and certainly a major asset to the Ireland set-up.
There is no doubt Ireland have performed really well this year, but it’s not just their ability to deliver on the big occasion or the attacking flair they have demonstrated, for me it’s their defensive performances. In recent years handling errors and conceding silly penalties have been Ireland’s biggest weakness and they have lost numerous big games due to this, namely during defeats to Scotland and England in last year’s tournament. However this time round they seem to have put it to bed. Long may it continue.
Before the tournament started this was the feature fixture, most people would have thought this could have been the match to decide who would win the grand slam but England’s poor performances the last couple of games spoiled that party. It’s a massive fixture for the Irish and a win would add to the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. One thing we can be sure of, if Ireland can emerge victorious, come Saturday evening the Irish fans will be singing in Galway Bay, dancing on the streets of Dublin Town and rejoicing around the fields of Athenry.