Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Six Nations: Ireland's €5m jackpot bid

Head coach Declan Kidney
Head coach Declan Kidney

Ireland are now playing for the biggest ever purse in the RBS Six Nations Championship, a potential €5m for a Grand Slam title.

After one of the most explosive opening weekends in the tournament's history, three teams remain in the hunt for the clean sweep with England and giant-slayers Italy joining Declan Kidney's side as the undefeated teams.

Italy lobbed a hand-grenade into the mix after beating France 23-18 yesterday in Rome.

But, realistically, it is between Ireland and England with this Sunday’s Aviva stadium clash between the countries shaping up as a title showdown and contest for the jackpot. The losers can wave farewell to any Grand Slam or Triple Crown hopes.

Following Saturday's epic 30-22 win over Wales in Cardiff, the decision of the Irish management to delay their team announcement until Friday has been made to allow the walking wounded time to recover and is also tactical as coach Kidney (left) wants to see what team England select.

There were several injuries picked up in Wales. Captain Jamie Heaslip suffered a cut to his leg, Gordon D'Arcy suffered a dead leg and Brian O'Driscoll had several stitches inserted in a head wound. He will be available to train, however, as will prop Mike Ross, who came off during the match due to severe calf cramp.

Rob Kearney reported stiffness in his back after the game and underwent a precautionary scan, which revealed no injury, while Keith Earls hurt his shoulder late in the match.

Peter O'Mahony took a bang to the head, but felt no ill-effects after the game and, while he will follow the graded return-to-play protocols, he is expected to be fit and available for the England match.

Earls underwent an initial scan and will see a specialist later this week. All are expected to take some part in training, although Earls' and D'Arcy's on-pitch involvement will be limited as they recover from their bangs.

A man of the match performance by Brian O’Driscoll understandably led to renewed queries about his playing prospects beyond this season. He deftly batted away questions about his prospects of ever reappearing at the Millennium Stadium again.

“That's two years' time, let's not worry about two years,” he said.

Now, with last season’s Grand Slam winners having lost to Ireland, the Scots going down to their oldest rivals in London and Philippe Saint-Andre’s much-fancied French forced off the road by the Italians on the first corner of this season’s Six Nations circuit, there are only three who can have a crack at what was thought to be impossible this year.

Italy can steal a march and press their improbable case by beating Scotland at Murrayfield which hosts the first of next weekend’s round two matches.

Saturday’s first-up aperitif will be followed by the France v Wales consommé at Stade de France where both will be desperate to atone for their first round losses.

But the main course undoubtedly is on Sunday at the Aviva Stadium where Ireland face England.

With Philippe Saint-Andre’s much-fancied and now seemingly over-hyped French derailed, this one promises to be even more fiercely contested than usual, the way having been cleared for one or other of them to complete the second of the three laps leading to the Triple Crown and of the five required to achieve a Grand Slam.

If you are one of the fortunate 50,000 to have a ticket for this one, you can name your price. All of a sudden, Ireland v England at 3.00pm on Sunday is the only show in town.

If Ireland were to win, that would see Kidney’s side heading to Edinburgh a fortnight later in the knowledge that victory there would give them their first Triple Crown since 2009 when they went all the way and completed their first Grand Slam in 61 years and only their second ever – now a third is on.

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