Ireland won the Six Nations Championship, the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown at Twickenham on a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day. In truth they saved their best and most emphatic performance of the championship to overturn England. Prior to the game, England’s coach, Eddie Jones had to apologise after a video emerged of him vowing England would avenge a final-day defeat to the “scummy Irish” that dashed their bid for back-to-back Grand Slams 12 months ago. It’s debatable if the statement had any influence on how the Irish players approached last weekend’s game. It did, however, affect how the crowd viewed the contest. Ireland let their rugby do the talking in the London snow on last Saturday to complete only their third ever clean sweep, lethal wing Jacob Stockdale becoming the first player to score seven tries in a single Six Nations campaign.
Joe Schmidt’s men, outstanding in attack and defence, showed the ruthlessness that enabled them to wrap up the title last weekend, with Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Stockdale going over in the first half. A try in each half from Elliot Daly and a late Jonny May consolation was all the much-changed 2016 and 2017 champions England could muster as they suffered a first home loss under Jones and a third consecutive defeat. Ireland, on the other hand, have now won 12 in a row six weeks after Jonathan Sexton came to the rescue with a last-gasp drop-goal against France in Paris.
England, smarting from back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France, started with the bit between their teeth, but it was Ireland who drew first blood when Anthony Watson spilled a towering kick from Sexton and the alert Ringrose dotted down only five minutes in. Sexton struck the post with a penalty, but soon added his second conversion as the newly-crowned champions strengthened their grip on proceedings, Bundee Aki bursting through a gap before the supporting Stander crashed into the base of the post for a five-pointer. Aki appeared fortunate to escape without a yellow card for a tackle on Daly before Peter O’Mahony was sin-binned for bringing down a driving maul with Ireland up against it.
England’s persistence paid off nine minutes before the break, the pacy Daly finishing after racing onto a clever kick from Owen Farrell, who was unable to add the extras as Watson was withdrawn due to a shoulder injury. Ireland might have been content to bring the half to an end with ball in hand and the clock red, but they were rewarded for their ambition when the rapid Stockdale chased onto his own kick and touched down after the ball bounced off his knee, Joey Carbery converting with Sexton off for a head injury assessment. England knocked on the door early in the second half without reward, a resolute Ireland defence standing firm before Conor Murray stepped up to give them a 19-point lead from the tee despite Sexton being cleared to return. The holders looked short of ideas until Daly took a superb one-handed offload from Mike Brown to round off a well-worked move 15 minutes from time, Farrell again unable to convert. Carbery was off target with a subsequent penalty and although May went over in the corner right at the end, the game had long since been won on a famous day for Irish rugby.
The first game on the final saw Scotland take the trip to the “eternal city”, it could be argued to escape the frozen temperatures in the UK than any hope of finishing in second place. For the Italians it was a last opportunity to salvage more than pride from a miserable campaign. If anything could be gleaned from Italy’s four losses before the Scottish game, they at least tried to play a more expansive game than in recent tournaments. However, it was not to be; although it was, to quote The Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo “a close run thing”. It took the ever reliable Greig Laidlaw’s 79th-minute Scotland penalty to seal the game and deny Italy their first Six Nations victory since 2015 in Rome.
Tommaso Allan had booted Italy ahead in a dramatic final 10 minutes, before Laidlaw’s decisive strike. Allen, a former Scotland Under-20 fly-half, contributed 22 points, including a try in each half, and also set up Matteo Minozzi to touch down. Fraser Brown, John Barclay, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg scored for the Scots, who earned a try bonus point. Scrum-half Laidlaw’s late kick claimed the visitors their first away championship win since beating Italy two years ago.
The Italians can count themselves unlucky in this game, their back row of Sebastian Negri, Jake Polledri and captain Sergio Parisse was absolutly colossal during the match. Parisse was on 99 Test defeats at the end of the game and only the most stone hearted of fans would not have wished it different when 99 became 100. At the end, he stood in shock at what had happened. The inspirational captain must have asked himself how it got away.
The final table will reflect that the Scots have matched their 2017 tally of three wins from five. Wins at home to France and England proved the high piont in Scotland’s tournament. However, they need to win away from home, and that does not include Italy, to really challenge for the title.
Winless Italy picked up the wooden spoon. However, as was mentioned all is not doom and gloom; they scored more tries than France and Scotland; they tried to play entertaining rugby and scored good tries. It was their defence that let them down-conceding more than double the amount of tries than their nearest rivals, Scotland.
Wales finished a credible second place in the final Six Nations table behind Grand Slam champions Ireland following a hard-fought one-point victory over France in Cardiff, 14-13.
A Liam Williams try and three Leigh Halfpenny penalties gave Wales a 14-10 interval advantage. Gael Fickou scored France’s try and the visitors enjoyed second-half possession and territory dominance. Wales’ dogged defence held firm for victory with only three points scored in the second-half. Welsh captain was monumental in defence. It was not a vintage performance from Wales, they have in fact played better in this tournament, in a scrappy match but the victory represented a third home win for Wales to go alongside away defeats to England and Ireland. That telling statistic again reinforcing the view that at least one away win is vital to have a chance of the title. Wales might have not won this tournament now since 2013, with Ireland and England claiming the last five titles, but they will be buoyed by second place.