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5 key players in Ireland’s successful Six Nations campaign

Ireland saw off Scotland 28-8 in Dublin while England lost 22-16 to France in Paris.

Ireland claimed their third NatWest 6 Nations title in five years with a week to spare.

Here, Press Association Sport examines five key players in Ireland’s victory march:

Jacob Stockdale

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Ulsterman Jacob Stockdale has equalled the all-time Six Nations scoring record with six tries. Can he add to that at Twickenham?

The first Irishman to score six tries in a single Five or Six Nations championship – and he still has a week to add to that tally. The 21-year-old Ulster star now boasts 10 tries in just eight Test matches. By any measure, that return remains remarkable. The Lisburn native has established himself as a fixture in Joe Schmidt’s first-choice XV almost as soon as he has broken into it. His ability to mix power running with unerring finishing has proved invaluable to Ireland’s title march, as has his uncanny aptitude for the interception.

Conor Murray

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Conor Murray

Munster and British and Irish Lions star Murray has only the All Blacks’ Aaron Smith as any credible challenge to the title of the world’s greatest scrum-half. The 28-year-old boasts the kind of all-court game most sides across the globe would crave from a half-back general. His ability to kick with unerring accuracy, snipe around the fringes with power and pace, and also pop up in midfield and direct play like a fly-half, remains almost unrivalled. That new-found propensity to drift through the 10 and 12 channels and act as an auxiliary ball player to boost Johnny Sexton’s craft has elevated him even higher in the scrum-half pantheon.

Johnny Sexton

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Johnny Sexton

The Lions fly-half’s nerves of steel shone through when he dropped that 45-metre goal in the third minute of overtime to snatch a 15-13 victory over France in Paris on the opening weekend. Without that Herculean rally, Ireland would simply not have been in this place.

Andrew Porter

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Andrew Porter

Less than two years ago, 22-year-old Leinster star Porter was a loosehead prop. Since then he has excelled in his switch to the other side of the front-row, so much so that he has pushed himself into the Test-match 23. And when Lions star Tadhg Furlong went down just three minutes into the Italy match, Porter stepped off the bench and excelled for the remaining 77. Porter backed that showing up in style against Wales too. As a scrum anchor so young in years, Porter has already come of age.

James Ryan

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James Ryan

Young lock Ryan has spent the last 18 months battling niggling injuries, but has suddenly broken free – and into Ireland’s starting ranks. The 21-year-old is not just a physical specimen of some repute, he also has a fine analytical mind. Leinster star Ryan stepped up in the absence of more senior men, and has glued Ireland’s pack together at times.

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