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Six Nations: England's record is there to be broken as Ireland chase Grand Slam, says Schmidt

Ireland 28-8 Scotland

Title triumph: Ireland players celebrate during their victory over Scotland
Title triumph: Ireland players celebrate during their victory over Scotland
Scotland’s Stuart Hogg congratulates Ireland’s Rory Best
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

In their suits rather than their boots, Ireland claimed a third Six Nations title in five years on Saturday, an achievement that marks these past seasons as an historic period for rugby in this part of the world.

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Throw in the breaking of an 111-year hoodoo against the All Blacks and a first ever Test victory on South African soil and Joe Schmidt is authoring a coaching CV that arguably has no rival in the pages of Irish history.

Adding what would be just a third ever Grand Slam to that list against England in Twickenham on Saturday would likely render any debate moot, even if the Kiwi's ultimate goal will be to take the side to a first World Cup semi-final before departing in 2019.

It is with that potential history of a first clean sweep since 2009 in mind that, after watching his side see off Scotland 28 points to eight, Schmidt spoke knowing there remained a huge task at hand, even with an insurmountable lead at the top of the standings.

"History doesn't protect you from the future," said Schmidt of looking to seal a Slam on a ground where England haven't lost under Eddie Jones. "We hadn't lost (a home Six Nations game) in five years before Scotland. It didn't protect us, we had to do it again. We have to go to England and try to test their record out.

"If you can't motivate yourself against England, then you're in trouble. And if we're not very much in the game, they could get away from us very quickly with the athletes that they have in their team. If you don't keep going forward in this championship, you end up going backwards.

"It would give me incredible satisfaction to achieve it because I work with these young men who do an incredibly difficult job and work very hard.

"They are a tough bunch and acquit themselves in tough moments very well. That deserves to be rewarded and we will all work hard to try to get that reward this week."

There is little doubt that of Schmidt's three titles, that this seemed the most muted. The fact that a still bigger prize is on offer this week is a factor, but while those in 2014 and 2015 were hanging in the balance until the last seconds, from the moment England lost to Scotland two weeks ago it would have been a huge disappointment had Ireland let it slip from there.

Indeed as soon as Sean Cronin added to a brace of scores from Jacob Stockdale and a further effort from Conor Murray to bag the bonus point against Scotland, top spot was an inevitability but took a further few hours to confirm.

England's defeat in Paris belatedly allowed Ireland the sort of low-key celebrations that come with a round four clincher, but it was somewhat fitting given that it was the fixture, away to France, that proved the difference between the two main challengers.

While England's breakdown was again an issue as they went down to Les Bleus, Ireland found a way to win in the Stade de France back in round one, crucial in a competition where away victories outside of Rome are becoming scarcer and scarcer.

After 41 phases and with the clock red, Johnny Sexton knocked over a mammoth drop goal, a moment that will prove all the more enduring should Ireland clinch a Slam to go along with their title this weekend.

For Sexton, who was on the fringes of the set-up when Ireland went five from five in 2009 but only made his debut later that year, it is a long-held ambition.

"Declan Kidney said I was just as much a part of it as everyone else in 2009 when I was on the bibs. I definitely didn't feel that way," he said.

"But I remember some of the talks around that time from the O'Driscolls, O'Connells, O'Garas - they were trying to achieve this for 10 years and you just could tell by their actions through that season how much it meant to them.

"They had to drag along guys like Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney and young guys coming through. It's very similar to that now.

"I think Rory [Best] is desperate for Grand Slam because he feels he would be a bigger part of it now than he played back then.

"For us it is about dragging those young lads on. They probably think they are going to get loads of opportunities but as I know it doesn't work like that. I remember playing Scotland in Croke Park for a Triple Crown [in 2010] and almost taking it for granted because I thought I'd have plenty more chances like this.

"I still haven't won a Triple Crown. You've got to take these opportunities with both hands when they come."

Sexton, who barely trained last week due to back spasms, an issue that saw Ian Keatley run through the warm-up as an extra man, was speaking to the media long after such formalities are usually concluded, owing to the odd situation of Ireland winning the championship so soon after their original post-match presser.

Knowing that title was theirs, Sexton admitted that it was anything but a celebratory changing room in the Aviva Stadium.

"We said after that it was a very special moment for the team and we will look back next week after we have lifted the trophy, but also hopefully with a Grand Slam and see that as a huge five minutes," he said.

"It's very muted upstairs. It is a very strange feeling to win the championship with a game to go. There is so much still to play for."

England came to Dublin in a similar situation and were forced to lift the trophy with the sting of losing a Grand Slam still fresh after an Ireland showing that greatly enhanced a few Lions causes.

"The shoe is on the other foot now after last year," said Sexton. "I'm sure they will be licking their lips.

"I know a lot of the [English players] from Lions trips and they are very proud people. I'm sure they will be gunning for us."

IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong, James Ryan, D Toner, P O'Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.

Replacements: S Cronin (for Best, 65), J McGrath (for Healy, 50), A Porter (for Furong, 61), I Henderson (for Toner, 54), J Murphy (for O'Mahony, 54), K Marmion (for Murray, 70), J Carbery (for Sexton, 72), J Larmour (for Kearney, 74)

SCOTLAND: S Hogg; B Kinghorn, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, S McInally, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, J Gray, J Barclay, H Watson, R Wilson.

Replacements: F Brown (for McInally, 59), J Bhatti (for Reid, 54), WP Nel (for Berghan, 54), T Swinson (for Grey, 70), D Denton (for Wilson, 17), A Price (for Laidlaw, 67) N Grigg (for Horne, 72), L Jones.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (ENG)

Man of the Match: Rob Kearney

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