Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

Ireland retain Six Nations title on super Saturday of rugby

An incredible finish at Twickenham ensured that Ireland were crowned Six Nations champions after Joe Schmidt's side had earlier seen off Scotland by thirty points at Murrayfield.

In an gripping day of rugby in the Six Nations, it all boiled down to events in Twickenham where Stuart Lancaster's England emerged victorious in a pulsating game in London, but not by enough to deprive Ireland of back-to-back titles.

Ultimately they fell just six points short after defating France 55-35, but could not find the 13th try of the game that would have handed the home side the championship.

Wales did their part in the opening game by demolishing Italy with a devastating second half performance in Rome to emerge victors 61-20. A last-minute try from Italy meant that Ireland had a target of 21 points to reach in Edinburgh to overtake the Welsh at the top of the table.

An early Paul O'Connell try set the tone and further tries from Sean O'Brien (2) and centre Jared Payne helped the visitors to a 40-10 win and leapfrog Wales before attention quickly turned to Twickenham.

The game was a free-flowing affair with five first half tries meaning England enjoyed a 27-15 lead at the interval. In contrast to the majority of the championship, the game simply ebbed and flowed and the second half followed a similar pattern to the first.

A George Ford try reduced the gap to Ireland to 10 points with 25 minutes remaining, but France capitalised on a yellow card to James Haskell to score a breakaway try through Vincent Debaty.

Billy Vunipola replied, before Saint-Andre's men went back down the pitch to drive over to reduce the gap to 13 points, and crucially, 13 points a gap for Ireland over England.

Jack Nowell went over for the twelfth try of a gripping encounter with five minutes remaining, but they couldn't get the crucial final try as Ireland prevailed by the skin of their teeth.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admitted post-match that it was surreal not to celebrate a 30 point win over Scotland with events in the final game of the campaign yet to unfold.

"It's really awkward, you win in Murrayfield by a 30 point differential and no-one is celebrating," he said.

"We got a couple of tries in both halves and kept pushing the scoreboard. I think the players did incredibly well."

"We tried to stay dynamic and focused on the process."

Ireland threw off the shackles in the final game, with Jonathan Sexton adding 18 points from the boots as Ireland went after a big win.

Finn Russell pulled one try back for the Scots but they were simply overrun by hungry opponents and end the tournament red-faced having lost all five games.

Captain Paul O'Connell paid tribute to his team after the full-time whistle in Edinburgh.

"We knew before we went out but I don't think it changed how we are going to play or what we plan to do," he said.

"A lot of the guys are experienced from playing in the Heineken Cup and the Champions Cup when you come to the last weekends and you might need a bonus point to qualify but you know it's the most dangerous thing to, to start playing like you're trying to win it in the first minute."

"We knew we had certain things to do and certain things we thought we could do that would produce results for us. It was all about focusing on that."

Scotland 10-40 Ireland match report

Joe Schmidt's Ireland threw off the shackles and ran in four tries to secure a brilliant win over Scotland at Murrayfield.

Sean O'Brien grabbed two tries while further scores from skipper Paul O'Connell and Jared Payne ensured Joe Schmidt's team doubled their try count for the championship.

Johnny Sexton kicked another 18 points and substitute Ian Madigan two but the Irish will hope three missed penalties do not come back to bite them as the race for the crown looks set to be decided by points difference.

Finn Russell pulled one try back for the Scots but they were simply overrun by hungry opponents and end the tournament red-faced having lost all five games.

England were left needing to win by 26 points against France at Twickenham to snatch the title.

There was anticipation in the air as Ireland arrived at Murrayfield hoping that Scotland would not stand in their way of a second successive RBS 6 Nations title.

Wales' 61-20 win over Italy in Rome raised the tension as the championship went to the wire and Joe Schmidt's Irishmen knew they would have to pile forward ahead of England's evening clash with France, with points difference looking like it would be required to settle the three-team title race.

Both side's made two changes for the Edinburgh meeting. Scotland head coach benched Alasdair Dickinson and Rob Harley and brought back Ryan Grant and Adam Ashe. The visitors, meanwhile, handed Luke Fitzgerald his first Test start in four years while Cian Healy also came in as Jack McGrath dropped to the ranks of the replacements and Simon Zebo missed out completely.

Wales' Rome triumph meant the Irish needed at least a 21-point win to keep hold of their crown and they wasted little time bulldozing over for a fourth-minute try.

A great break from Tommy Bowe took them to within a yard of the try line. And after the visitors kept the move alive, skipper Paul O'Connell found the room to squeeze round a ruck and finish off the touchdown to become Ireland's oldest ever scorer.

Jonathan Sexton added the extras and then a penalty to cement the perfect start.

The Scots had been shell-shocked by Ireland's ferocious opening but eventually got a foothold before putting themselves on the scoreboard when captain Greig Laidlaw knocked over a simple penalty.

But a clever pincer movement between Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald almost put Ireland in again before Dougie Fife - back on after a brief spell off the pitch having a wounded tended - came up with a vital tackle.

There was no stopping O'Brien though as he brushed off the winger for the second score after 24 minutes. From a line-out, Devin Toner collected and turned to see the Leinster flanker offer the perfect angle as burst in for his fourth Test try. Sexton again converted.

But the hosts responded in style with eight minutes of the half left. Stuart Hogg pressurised Rob Kearney into dropping a grubber before Seymour drove the Scotland forward further. He was brought down five yards out but Laidlaw moved the ball wide for Russell to gallop round the back and score.

Laidlaw put the conversion over but Ireland clawed some points back with another Sexton kick. Hogg thought he had grabbed another try just before the break but French referee Jerome Garces had already blown up after Matt Scott knocked-on.

With the championship race set to be decided by points difference, the visitors piled forward in the early stages and got their reward as skipper Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien both scored, while Johnny Sexton added 10 points with his boot.

The Scots - hoping to avoid a fifth straight defeat - hit back, however, when Finn Russell scored his first try for his county to add to the five points kicked by captain Greig Laidlaw.

The second half was just four minutes old when Jim Hamilton handed Sexton another easy kick just under the posts after failing to role away after a tackle.

And the points continued to be tallied up for Ireland when Sexton opened up a hole in the Scottish defence for Jared Payne to run through with a simple dummy after 49 minutes. The Ulsterman's try was once again converted by Sexton.

However, the Racing Metro fly-half stuck the post with his next penalty attempt. Having conceded twice already this championship from rebounds, the Scots were just grateful the ball bounced their way this time.

But they were not so happy when they were reduced to 14 men. Substitute prop Geoff Cross was sent to the sin-bin for playing the ball illegally at a ruck - but Sexton showed his nerves when he wasted the chance to put Ireland out in front in the championship race as he screwed the penalty wide.

Sexton composed himself for his next effort though and nailed it through the posts to put Ireland on the verge of glory.

Ireland held a 19-point lead over the English but they were desperate for more.

From a five-yard line-out they worked through five phases before O'Brien wriggled past Al Dickinson to finish off another crucial try after 71 minutes. Substitute kicker Ian Madigan did the necessary with the conversion.

Irish hearts momentarily skipped a beat when it looked like Stuart Hogg had dived over for the Scots - but the television match official came to the rescue as the full-back's fumble just before grounding the ball was spotted.

Garces handed Schmidt's side a last-minute penalty but Madigan blew the chance to heap more pressure on England when he fluffed it wide.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph