Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ireland ranked ahead of 2016 England in list of the best Grand Slam-winning sides

Daniel Schofield

With England's victory over France last night, there have now been nine Six Nations Grand Slams. Here is a ranking of each one since the tournament's inception in 2000.

9. France 2010 (points difference +66, 13 tries)

The 2010 tournament was a flat-out stinker, although that may in turn be rivalled by this 2016 edition. France beat what was put in front of them, but even then it was not always convincing, with Wales gifting them two intercept tries in their 26-20 victory at the Millennium Stadium. They were also made to work hard for their Slam, edging past England 12-10 in Paris.

8. England 2016 (points difference +62, 13 tries)

Maybe it will grow more impressive in the fullness of time and with the benefit of hindsight but at this juncture I struggle to recall a poorer Six Nations in terms of overall quality. That should not diminish Eddie Jones’ achievement in achieving a feat that proved beyond his four predecessors. England did what they had to but this was no statement slam in the manner of 2003. Consistent excellence was elusive. There were good patches, particularly in the first hour against Wales and parts of the Ireland. There were also some ropey periods, Scotland away, the first half against Italy and the last quarter against Wales. No victory was achieved without a significant wobble and for that reason it is hard to rank England’s class of 2016 higher.

7. Wales 2012 (points difference +51, 10 tries)

A third Wales Slam in eight years with arguably their strongest XV, but this was achieved in a far-from-vintage Championship with three teams in transition under new coaches. Warren Gatland’s side repeated their World Cup quarter-final defeat of Ireland with a 23-21 victory at the Aviva Stadium in which the lead changed hands five times. Their sweetest victory, though, came at Twickenham as Scott Williams stripped the ball from Courtney Lawes to confirm a 19-12 victory.

6. Ireland 2009 (points difference +48, 12 tries)

The long, long wait was over as Ireland won their first Grand Slam in 61 years. It was fitting reward for Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell who will all be remembered as greats of the game. Yet progress was far from serene. A Danny Care yellow card was the key moment in their 14-13 victory over England at Croke Park, while their final game went down to the wire in perhaps the most dramatic of Six Nations finales. With just seconds to go, Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal put them in front against Wales but there was still time for Stephen Jones to miss a long-range penalty that would have denied Ireland the slam.

5. Wales 2008 (points difference +78, 13 tries)

The dawn of the Warren Gatland era began ominously as they trailed England 16-6 at half-time. Yet the second half was a different story as Lee Byrne’s try drew them level before Mike Phillips pounced on a chargedown to seal Wales’ first win at Twickenham in 20 years. After that it was largely the Shane Williams show, the diminutive winger ran in six tries to become Wales’ record try scorer, allayed with Shaun Edwards’ defence, which conceded a record low two tries.

4. France 2002 (points difference +81, 15 tries)

Difficult to separate this from the class of 2004. The personnel were largely the same, although Bernard Laporte was able to call upon the timeless talents of scrum-half Fabien Galthie (pictured). However, their route to the title was a lot less smooth, only seeing off Wales in Cardiff 37-33 with the hosts having late tries disallowed by Scott Quinnell and Dafydd James. The Slam was effectively decided in their third match against England in Paris, where early tries by Gerald Merceron and Harinordoquy proved decisive.

3. France 2004 (points difference +84, 14 tries)

This was a proper French side. Yannick Jauzion and Damian Traille formed an irresistible centre partnership; Sylvain Marconnet and Fabien Pelous provided the ballast in the pack; the back row of Serge Betsen, Olivier Magne and Imanol Harinordoquy was perfectly balanced. Fired up by their World Cup semi-final defeat to England, Bernard Laporte’s men steamed through Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland to set up a title decider against their fierce rivals in the last round of games. Revenge was duly administered as France flew into a 21-3 lead rendering England’s second-half performance irrelevant.

2. Wales 2005 (points difference +74, 17 tries)

A seminal year in the history of the Championship which broke the Anglo-French stranglehold on the title and ushered in a new era of Celtic dominance. Much of the focus centred around Gavin Henson, but the real rocks were either side of him in the form of Tom Shanklin and Stephen Jones. History was sealed with a 32-20 victory against Ireland at a raucous Millennium Stadium as Wales won their first Slam in 27 years, and became the first team to take the title by winning three away games.

1. England 2003 (points difference +127, 18 tries)

After several years of near misses, Sir Clive Woodward’s team finally sealed the Grand Slam - and they did so with authority. After a poor second half against France and a sloppy first half against Wales, England stepped up several gears putting 40 points on Italy, Scotland and most impressively Ireland at Lansdowne Road in what ranks among this team’s finest performances. It was momentum that they carried through to their two-Test tour of New Zealand and the World Cup.

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