Saturday 15 December 2018

The countdown is on: Schmidt's side hope to claim a third Grand Slam

 

24 February 2018; Cian Healy of Ireland is congratulated by team mate Bundee Aki after he scored their side's fourth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Cian Healy of Ireland is congratulated by team mate Bundee Aki after he scored their side's fourth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

For just the sixth time in this tournament's 137-year history, Ireland go into the final day with a Grand Slam on the line.

Twice, they have managed to secure the northern hemisphere's greatest prize. Today, the class of 2018 can follow in the footsteps of the 1948 and 2009 sides by beating England to enter the history books.

At Twickenham, on St Patrick's Day; it is the perfect storm and Ireland captain Rory Best has warned his team that they will need to produce close to a perfect performance to secure their prize despite facing an English team in the midst of a turbulent campaign.

Whatever happens today, he will lift the trophy at around 5pm, but already the skipper has described winning the tournament as a "consolation" prize.

The 2009 Irish team celebrate their Grand Slam triumph in Cardiff. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
The 2009 Irish team celebrate their Grand Slam triumph in Cardiff. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Faced with the prospect of following Dr Karl Mullen and Brian O'Driscoll into the history books by captaining Ireland to a Grand Slam, Best was undaunted at his Captain's Run yesterday.

For him and Rob Kearney, this is a chance to form a unique club of two - the only players to earn two Slams in Irish history.

And the experienced Ulster hooker is fully aware of the stakes.

"When you start out you want to keep going and you want to play at as high a level as you can," he said.

Brian O’Driscoll celebrates the 2009 Grand Slam triumph with the legendary Jack Kyle who was part of the 1948 Grand Slam team. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Brian O’Driscoll celebrates the 2009 Grand Slam triumph with the legendary Jack Kyle who was part of the 1948 Grand Slam team. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

"When you experience most of that you then want to try to not just fit in at that level, you want to try to be as good as you can be at that level.

"Then to get the opportunity to captain your province, your country and the Lions, it is special, but for me there would be nothing more special than the opportunity to lift the trophy as captain of Ireland.

"It's something that growing up I didn't get to witness very often and to be in this opportunity now, having been part of three teams that have won silverware in that green jersey, to be now capping that would be very, very special for me and obviously all my family and close friends and that proposition really excites you.

"But it's like everything else, you've got to always bring it back to how we can get there and it's about making sure we prepare, but ultimately it's about making sure we perform.

"You always have that consolation prize of a Championship which, I think having put ourselves in this position, we know we want to go on and achieve something special.

"Everyone strives for perfection... look, it's impossible in a game where we don't control the opposition but that's what we all strive for."

Best's opposite number Dylan Hartley said that his England team will have no issue with motivation.

A year ago, Schmidt's side spoiled the champions' Grand Slam in Dublin and their skipper conceded that some within the camp will want to return the favour as they look to finish a disappointing campaign with a win and avoid a potential fifth-place finish.

"Everyone here is motivated differently, there would be some players who are motivated by that; I'm motivated by finishing the tournament on a high after two disappointments," he said.

"I'm motivated by showing the rugby world that we're still a good team. We do that by beating the current Six Nations champions. I can't tell you how to get motivated. You've got to find your own way.

"We talk about the next game being the biggest game. It's important on all fronts. We want to finish the tournament strongly, we don't want Ireland to win a Grand Slam."

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