After last weekend’s thrilling yet too close for comfort win over England at Croke Park, three 6 Nations fixtures have brought three wins for the Irish rugby team. The big question remaining is – can they replicate this form into the final two fixtures and win the Grand Slam for the first time since 1948? Read on for more…
Its fair to say that expectations were low going into the Six Nations 2009 – Ireland had a new coach in Munster maestro Declan Kidney, and his aim at the start was to freshen up the talented but wounded Irish team with an addition of skilful young players such as Keith Earls, Jamie Heaslip, Tomas O’Leary and Tommy Bowe.
Then the France game on February 7th changed everything – in a wonderful clash against the flair of the French at Croke Park, Ireland shaded it, winning its first match since 2003 against “Les Blues” with a 30-21 victory. Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy showed a return to previous glories, and both scored outstanding tries. O’Driscoll’s try was especially thrilling as it did appear that the Ireland captain was in decline, the return of his pace and finishing ability has come at exactly the right time! It was pleasing for Ireland to sweep France aside in the final quarter so skilfully, and the team displayed cool heads to see the tie through.
The next game saw a scrappy performance with a 38-9 win over Italy in Rome. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.Then there was the little matter of the visit of England to Croke Park. England were effectively lambs to the slaughter during their previous visit to Croke Park in 2007, but they were well marshalled by Martin Johnson this time. A battle of attrition ensued, and Ireland’s captain O’Driscoll turned over a try to give Ireland a lead they never relinquished, despite the uncharacteristically wayward kicking of Ronan O’Gara.
All the talk was of Wales this year – and whether they could be the first team since France in the mid 1990′s to win the Grand Slam two in a row. But last weekend Warren Gatland’s men faltered in Paris – and Ireland took full advantage to move on top of the RBS 6 Nations table.
So where does this leave Ireland now? On paper they have a fantastic chance to win their first Grand Slam for 61 years, and their third Triple Crown in six years, which would be a fantastic achievement. The two remaining fixtures are both away from home, and against teams in differing form.
Saturday March 14th sees Ireland travel to Murrayfield to play Scotland. The corresponding fixture in 2007 saw a narrow and fortunate Irish win over Scotland by just one point – 19-18. Indeed in the year of the Foot and Mouth disease Scotland stopped Ireland winning the Grand Slam when the Ireland games resumed in September 2001 after the Spring postponements.
Ireland have to be wary of dangermen Phil Godman and wonderful kicker Chris Patterson. This game kicks off at 5pm. Scotland are in poor form, and have only recently recorded their first win of the season in a lacklustre performance against Italy. However Ireland have to guard against complacency, and surely based on current form, Ireland will repeat their 2008 Croke Park win of 34-15, leading to a massive face off clash with the Welsh side.
The last game scheduled for Ireland in the 6 Nations is away to Wales at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, on March 21st at 5.30pm. Wales lost last time out to France, however they have Italy next and it will surely be a game for them to renew confidence after the Paris defeat. The Welsh have aspirations of their own – a win over Ireland will garner a Triple Crown, and this is a huge incentive for Warren Gatland’s men.
Take into account that they defeated Ireland in 2005 to take Ireland’s Triple Crown, and also win the Grand Slam shows the task that is facing Declan Kidney’s men. Add in the fact that Wales were Grand Slam winners in 2008 (comprehensively beating Ireland everywhere but on the scoreboard at Croke Park 16-12), shows the massive job Ireland have still to do in order to complete the Grand Slam. Ireland must not concede penalities to immaculate place kicker Stephen Jones. Leigh Halfpenny is in good form, so he has to be watched!
Hopefully Ireland can continue this good run of form into the final two 6 Nations tests – despite both games being away, the atmosphere is going to be terrific in the pubs around the Emerald Isle for the evening kick offs – so if you are in Ireland taking a break and are a rugby fan, make sure to check out your local pub for a few drinks and enjoy the match day atmosphere and cheer on the boys in green!
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What do you think? Are Ireland on course for their first Grand Slam since 1948? If you have any thoughts on the upcoming matches please let us know. We appreciate your comments!