Tomorrow, on St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland will lift a trophy in celebration of winning the 6 Nations Championship 2018. However, it certainly feels like there are two trophies on offer at Twickenham tomorrow. One trophy is a very beautiful and sparkling piece of silverware that encapsulates the immense pride, passion, and ambitious journey that this band of Irish warriors have taken over the last few years. The other trophy is also beautiful but does not shine quite as brightly, even though it’s in fact the exact same trophy as the aforementioned one.
Now, before it starts to sound like I’m ungrateful that Ireland have already secured a 3rd 6 Nations title trophy in 5 years, I feel it’s important to point out the vast difference between winning the 6 Nations and winning the Grand Slam! It’s confusing because you don’t get a bigger trophy for completing a clean sweep of victories in the 6 Nations (well apart from being awarded the Triple Crown) but it means so much more for the players, coaches and supporters if (when) Ireland finish the championship undefeated. What makes such an achievement more special is that Ireland has only managed to do this on two other occasions, in 1948 and 2009.
What also makes the final fixture of this championship special (and puts the boys in green under even more pressure) is that our final game is against our old rivals England, in Twickenham, and on St. Patrick’s Day!! It doesn’t really get bigger than this does it?
So, which trophy will Ireland lift; the 6 Nations trophy, or the 6 Nations Grand Slam trophy? Let’s first take a look at the Irish team selection:
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 82 caps
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 66 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 12 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 6 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 8 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 72 caps
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 63 caps
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 77 caps
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 110 caps Captain
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 22 caps
4. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 7 caps
5. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 37 caps
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 46 caps
7. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 8 caps
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 22 caps
16. Sean Cronin (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 60 caps
17. Jack McGrath (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 46 caps
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 6 caps
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 57 caps
20. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 19 caps
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 20 caps
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 9 caps
23. Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 2 caps
That’s a very classy team selection from Joe, just one change from the team that beat Scotland last weekend at the Aviva Stadium. That one change is Ian Henderson starts and Toner takes the bench.
The backs selection is sublime, all very great ball carriers and extremely potent wingers who can score from anywhere. The centre partnership of Aki and Ringrose will undoubtedly prove to be a great move by Schmidt. Bundee has had a quiet enough 6 Nations season in attack so far but he has been the backbone of our attack at close range. His work rate around the ruck has been incredible and his assistance with clear outs has been immensely crucial for our defensive efforts. As I heard in a podcast this week, his nickname should be Janitor because he cleans up everything!
Will we see another intercept try from Ireland tomorrow? Well, we could well do while Jacob Stockdale togs out for the boys in green. Ireland’s top try scorer this season has scored two intercept tries over the last two fixtures, and another two well worked tries for good measure. It’s clear to see, this guy is very much enjoying himself and is on fire for Ireland, lets hope he keeps up the great work with another brilliant shift at Twickenham tomorrow. Cheeky prediction, Stockdale to score Ireland’s first try of the match in the first half.
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray………enough said! These two lads have yet again been the glue and backbone of this Irish squad. Their skill, determination, leadership and utter disregard for taking a breather is an inspiration to the onlooking supporters and there’s no team in the world that has such an incredible 9 and 10 partnership. Regardless of the result, a glass should be raised to their mental and physical investment in this team.
Just scroll up for a second and read the 1-8 selection again. Isn’t it a thing of beauty? Is there anyone in there that you’d take out? England should be shaking in their boots when they see this wall of battle hardened forwards rushing towards them. And rightly so, each of them have been top of the stats in terms of carries, gain line success, line-out steals and turnovers, they are the definition of a cohesive unit.
We have a bench that look like they could easily be included in a starting lineup. Just let this sink in; when Healy, Best and Furlong get tired and are taken off, Cronin, Porter and McGrath will take to the field. There is absolutely no physical let off in those changes. Then you have the ever effective and reliable Toner to replace Henderson. Jordi Murphy will be a great sight to see when either O’Mahony, Leavy or Stander leave the field of play. Marmion will again prove his worth no doubt in the place of Murray should he feel it’s time to take that breather he’s well overdue for. Then we have Joey Carbery who can take up the 10, 11, 14, and 15 position should he be required, and of course the young Larmour to bring those dancing feet onto the pitch!
Eddie Jones has also selected a great side to defend their home patch from the Paddy’s Day Warriors. The squad look very strong and dangerous on paper, but although this team look strong and menacing like an angry British Bulldog, so far this season it’s been toothless and very uninspiring. The squad is clearly going through some issues and they will undoubtedly look to rectify a lot of their short comings tomorrow. They have the leaders, the powerful pack and the know how to unlock the Irish defence and cause a massive upset. They are the one team in the 6 Nations that are almost guaranteed to be able to turn things around in such a tight turnaround and stun everyone with a top drawer performance.
Where the game will be won
I feel that England are going to try and play for each other and repair some broken chariots for their supporters on the final day of the 6 Nations. I don’t see them deploying a conservative game and performing anywhere near to the standard that they did against France last weekend. Instead, I expect a steely approach and very attack focused game plan is on the horizon. This team will want to shock Ireland from the off and try to keep as much possession as possible. Ireland has been weak out wide throughout this championship and I’m sure that we’ll see a lot of ball getting shifted out wide more than channelling up the middle. Scoring tries will be the name of the game for England and we should see a lot of them in this match. Ireland will need to deploy patience to their mindset and look to disrupt the English set piece, just like they did in the reverse fixture last season. A strong defence will be key if Ireland hope to snatch a 3rd Grand Slam, but counter attacking play will be crucial in order to keep the scoreboard in Ireland’s favour. Sexton and Farrell will face off again but I expect Sexton to win the game of 10s! Three points will keep the scoreboard ticking over for both sides, but tries will be the winning of the game. Expect a try fest!
Ireland are under serious pressure tomorrow, that’s a given. However, I feel that England are under worse pressure, and I don’t think that they have had the skill and leadership to keep that pressure at bay. While England have been performing increasingly worse with each game, Ireland have been getting better and better. I expect Ireland to put out their best performance of the year tomorrow and become worthy champions again, one trophy held high, and a triple crown under the arm.
England 20 – Ireland 27
Match-day result: 15 – 24