Grand Slam win: On a historic evening in the Aviva, Irish rugby fans witnessed the bravest group to wear the green jersey in a long time
Among the many reasons to cheer Ireland rugby’s fourth grand slam win was the reality that this squad has grown accustomed to being frontrunners. Irish teams more usually prefer the underdog, wildcard tag on the big occasion as it allows them cut loose, “give it a lash,” and sometimes confound the pundits.
But on a crispy historic evening at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, this side, fashioned by Joe Schmidt and honed by Andy Farrell, coped wonderfully with all the pressures. They conquered the adversity engendered by their own nerves and a resurgent England side fervently questing redemption after a very poor season to date.
It took Johnny Sexton’s side virtually all of the first half to find their accustomed rhythm and confidence. But they put in a splendid second half running out very deserving winners by 29 points to 16.
Talk of a World Cup victory next October in France has intensified as the Irish squad, with the deserved world number-one tag, will be fancied universally.
For others engaged with Irish sport, the race memory of pride coming before a fall, will linger.
But, before we go into all of that mix of exhilarated expectation and dread of ensuing angst, let’s just stop and reflect on our first duty here which is to savour and celebrate. Glorious sporting days such as this can be rare and they must be duly feted.
Let us also salute the heroes of the day. They are a side truly representing rugby’s “four proud provinces of Ireland” and include an encouraging number of “new Irish”.
They blend the vigour of youth with the wisdom of experience and they play as a unit with a fierce pride which is a tonic to all Irish people. In summary, this squad exhausts our stock of superlatives.
Let’s just say these Irish players are the bravest group to wear an Irish jersey in many a day and they do their talking on the field of play.
By close of business on Saturday evening, Irish sports fans were exhilarated by a fitting end to a sparkling Six Nations campaign. All 15 players, and eight replacements, were true heroes of Irish sport.
But one standout player, that world-record breaking number 10, Johnny Sexton, was truly the “heroes’ hero.” The Ireland captain kept the scoreboard motoring by slotting over three conversions and a penalty, in the process surpassing Ronan O’Gara as the championship’s all-time record scorer on 566 points.
It was the 37-year-old’s second grand slam title as a player, while he was also involved as an uncapped player in the 2009 success.
That little vignette of itself tells us the story of a golden era in Irish rugby.
All Irish sports fans will be cheered that this Dubliner, who comes to the game via his Kerry roots, does not want this great win to be the pinnacle of his playing career. He wants to lead Ireland to World Cup glory in France next October.
Many of us have already begun to count down the days with confidence tempered by realism. One senses there are great times beckoning.