Ireland have finally lifted the ban on Grand Slam talk, Conor Murray has admitted.
Joe Schmidt’s side swiped a third NatWest 6 Nations title in five years with Saturday’s 28-8 victory over Scotland in Dublin.
Now the Irish could seal just a third-ever clean sweep with a victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday that would spark jubilant St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Taskmaster boss Schmidt famously has his players well-drilled on the party line of remaining next-game focused – but British and Irish Lions scrum-half Murray conceded there is no more avoiding the main issue when that next game is a Grand Slam decider.
“We can start talking about it now, because that’s what’s in front of us if things go well,” said Murray of Ireland’s bid for a Grand Slam to echo the achievements of 1948 and 2009.
“It would be right up there, probably at the top. Only Rob (Kearney) and Rory (Best) are left that have won a slam.
“The motivation is in our group and it’s about how we avoid the distraction of all that and go about our business like we usually do in a match week with something really special to play for.
“It’s not daunting, it’s a massive occasion, but it’s one this group is going to enjoy and relish.
“We do have the ability, it’s just about getting that performance together and trying to nail it as best we can.
“It’s a massive occasion and one a lot of lads haven’t faced into before. But there’s a lot of lads in the group that have played in massive, massive games and know how to go about a big match week.
“There’s a crop of younger players in this group that the older, more experienced players can guide through the week. I wouldn’t have any fears about the younger players, they’re just so good at Rugby that it comes so naturally to them.
“If there’s a bit of advice here and there that older lads can give, I’m sure we will. That’s the challenge of a unique week we have.”
Ireland set a new record of 11 consecutive wins with Saturday’s victory over Scotland, leapfrogging England into second place in the World Rugby rankings.
A shot at the Grand Slam awaits… pic.twitter.com/Jo0QXg3hXB
— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 10, 2018
England’s back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France now leave Eddie Jones’ side staring down the barrel of their worst Six Nations since 2006.
England could even finish as low as fifth in the table should Ireland complete the Grand Slam – but British and Irish Lions star Murray insisted Schmidt’s side still expect a ferocious English performance this weekend.
“They’ve had a couple of tough games but they’re still the same side which won a slam and another championship back-to-back,” said Murray, of England.
“So that’s the same thing as us losing a game here or there, a couple of things not going right, but we still believe we’re good enough and we would be. England are going to be no different. They’re going to be coming home, they’re going to have a lot to play for, a lot of pride as well, they’re full of world-class players.
“I wouldn’t get fooled by the fact they’ve lost a couple of games. I still think they’re a really, really good side that can be very dangerous.
“I don’t think we’ll fall into that trap, definitely not. I think we’ve enough knowledge about them and experience to deal with that.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Ireland wrapped up the Six Nations title on Saturday while England were beaten again.
After Wales wrapped up the fourth weekend of the championship with victory over Italy, we assess the fortunes of each team…
Good: The Six Nations winners have put themselves in a glorious position to earn their place in a small club and seal only the third Grand Slam in the country’s history next weekend. Joe Schmidt’s side were clinical, relentless, ruthless against Scotland as they took their four tries with conviction. No other Irish player has scored more tries in a championship than Jacob Stockdale (six tries in five matches) and there’s still one more round to go.
Bad: Everything has gone to the best possible script for the Men in Green but the weight of history and what they could achieve at Twickenham, could play on their minds. It’s not a bad problem to have but the Irish need to remember the full job isn’t done yet.
Good: When the Red Rose went quick ball first and didn’t worry about their structure, it gave the players the chance to have a broken field and use their footwork. The English showed flashes of their attacking exploits, but Eddie Jones’ men need to add another 40 percent to their performance if they are to have any hope of beating Ireland in the final round.
Bad: A far cry from the team that won back-to-back titles – with two defeats in four matches this championship. They gave away too many penalties – a record 15 which is the most of the Jones era – and looked deficient in attack and couldn’t unlock a granite-like French defence. The back-row balance is a massive area that needs to be addressed.
Good: Warren Gatland showed the serious depth available in his squad after making 10 changes to his squad. To see the likes of George North, Hadleigh Parks and Elliot Dee shine in the bonus-point win shows the class on offer in the Dragons set-up. They have the chance to secure second place with a bonus-point with against France on Saturday.
Bad: Lacked ruthlessness at times during the first period after such a storming start. The Dragons need to be composed with ball-in-hand for long periods, cut down mistakes and discipline (two sin bins and Liam Williams lucky not to get a red) if they are to seriously challenge the likes of Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere teams at next summer’s World Cup.
Good: Gregor Townsend’s side showed creativity and had chances to go ahead in Dublin, and ask questions that weren’t asked of Ireland in the tournament yet. Although they might look at the scoreline and see a comprehensive defeat, there were signs of class that the Scots need to work on to improve after the championship.
Bad: It’s unfortunate that a burgeoning team like the Scots have been so appalling on the road this championship – with three defeats in five. They butchered three try-scoring chances against the Irish, including an early opportunity for Stuart Hogg that could have put a different reflection on the contest.
Good: The win over England will get them back into the top eight of the world rankings – after falling behind Fiji and Argentina. Les Bleus showed the French Flair that has been missing in their game in recent years, hammering the English with every opportunity. Victory over the Red Rose represents a significant boost to their overall morale, with the physicality of their back-row providing a serious thorn to their success.
Bad: A thumping victory in Paris but Jacques Brunel’s side haven’t solved anything yet. They failed to make an impact for nearly 50 minutes of the match and only came to light when awarded a penalty try. Made some critical errors, including burning a serious try scoring chance from a five-metre scrum after the break.
Good: The Azzurri’s structure and work through the phases looked positive and will add confidence to the work of Conor O’Shea and his backroom team when sitting down to review the championship next week. To see the elusive Matteo Minozzi touchdown for another try will be another key positive.
Bad: Their game plan was littered with mistakes in the second-half and virtually fell apart as Wales upped the intensity. Loose defending and an inability to keep the ball moving cost them as the game progressed. The failure of Sergio Parisse to have any impact on proceedings did little to inspire them and their heads subsequently dropped. They have one final chance to end the campaign on a high against Scotland next week – a team who has failed to win on the road this season.
Ireland clinched the Six Nations Championship with a round to spare and it’s no surprise to see three of their players in the standout performers of the weekend.
Wales and France recorded important wins and also have three men each in our top-10 – but there is no place for any players from England or Scotland.
Here is the full rundown of the best players from week four.
Rob Kearney – An absolute colossus at the back for Ireland. Despite getting older the Leinster man never seems to miss a beat. Fielded the high-ball immaculately and counter attacked with real purpose every time he had his hands on the ball. Ever-dependable in defence, a wall Scotland couldn’t knock down.
Garry Ringrose – If this is what the outside centre plays like having not featured in an international Test since last summer then just wait until he’s in form. In many ways he’s a throwback, not huge of frame, and relies mainly on his speed, footwork, and rugby brain – all of which were razor sharp this weekend.
Dan Leavy – Another Irishman supposedly filling in for a more illustrious colleague, and while Sean O’Brien may have big boots to fill, Leavy is more than up to the task. Covered pretty much every blade of grass against Scotland and finds a wonderful openside balance of link players and defensive nuisance.
James Davies – An all-action debut for the Scarlets flanker. Was busy in the loose, getting turnovers and carrying well on several occasions, but it was his tackle count of 18 that really stood out. Blotted his copybook slightly with a soft penalty but in all can be more than happy with his first outing.
Hadleigh Parkes – Another stand-out performance from a man making the Welsh 12 shirt his own. Described post-match as someone who doesn’t make mistakes, that was clear for all to see in Cardiff. Passes beautifully, great in the tackle, solid boot, strong runner, denied a deserved brace by the TMO.
George North – First start for Wales in 12 months and it was like he had never been away. Showed good footwork early on, and excellent support running for his first try. Solid line for his second to really announce his comeback. His work-rate will please Warren Gatland, especially a second-half turnover.
Matteo Minozzi – On an otherwise dreary day for the Italians, the full-back provided a rare chink of light. A simply dazzling piece of footwork to beat Liam Williams out wide and then the power to get over the line for a score of great quality. Some nice touches throughout on another difficult day for the Azzuri.
Benjamin Fall – With Teddy Thomas sidelined there were question marks over the French wings, but Fall was constantly on the lookout for work. Denied by Anthony Watson, leading to the crucial penalty try, the 29-year-old Montpellier star carried hard and showed good footwork in enclosed spaces.
Remy Grosso – Another totemic presence for the French out wide. Managed a game-high 110-metres with ball in hand offering a good threat on the counter and in more structured attack. Add into this half a dozen defenders beaten, a couple of clean breaks and two offloads and you see why the Clermont flyer was man-of-the-match.
Yacouba Camara – Has been one of the high points for France in the tournament and his abrasive style was perfect for the clash with England on Saturday. A determined runner, he’s tough to bring down and from a defensive perspective, more than played his part in the back row unit that dominated England.