Ireland have done it. An assured performance at Twickenham helped them to a win over England and a deserved Grand Slam — just the third of their history.
Eddie Jones’ England would finish in their lowest ever position since Italy made it the Six Nations in 2000, as Scotland’s narrow win in Rome was followed by a one-point victory for Wales against France.
So who had a weekend to remember, and who had one to forget? We take a look at the biggest talking points from week five.
Player of the week
Tadhg Furlong (Ireland). As England’s British & Irish Lions toiled in freezing conditions on Saturday, few Ireland players who toured New Zealand displayed the same kind of battle scars. The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has far greater control over the workload of its top players than its English counterparts and it showed. One such player, Tadhg Furlong, put in a monumental performance that helped his team win the battle up front and ultimately the match. He had the better of Mako Vunipola at scrum time, put in 18 tackles and made 12 carries in the loose. At the end of a long, hard campaign he was a deserved man of the match.
England would be many people’s choice following a third successive defeat that left them with their lowest championship finish in 31 years, while Italy blew it against Scotland. But France’s inability to see out a victory when well placed for the third week in five tips the scale in their favour. Jacques Brunel’s men had chances to beat Wales, in a game in which they shaded possession, made more metres with ball in hand, enjoyed near-perfect lineout stats, missed fewer tackles and gave away fewer penalties than their hosts. These are stats that should add up to a ‘W’ yet composure again let them down at key moments. That their only lineout loss came on the last play when they needed to keep the game alive sums up how their Six Nations has gone.
Ireland possess an exciting generation of young players that are currently threatening the established order, and Joe Schmidt deserves praise for the way he has handled their integration into his side. Five starters at Twickenham were under 23, but it has not been a case of rushing new players in for the sake of it. Schmidt has received criticism for his persistence with Rob Kearney at fullback as Jordan Larmour, 20, kicked his heels on the replacements bench, but it was Kearney who set the tone for Ireland against England. He did not make box office metres with ball in hand but all of his 10 carries added impetus to the Irish attack. Interestingly, Mike Brown — much maligned himself — did a similar job for England when he replaced the injured Anthony Watson.
Angus Gardner (England vs. Ireland). The beauty of rugby, as opposed to football, for fans watching the match live inside the ground is that contentious decisions referred to the TMO get shown on the big screen for all to see. It took less than six minutes for one such referral as Garry Ringrose was awarded the game’s opening try. We were treated, therefore, to cheers from the England fans inside Twickenham when they spotted what appeared to be Kearney knock on as he challenged Watson in the air. Those gave way to groans, and then a roar from the many thousand Irish fans in attendance, as it became apparent that TMO Ben Skeen had somehow contrived to miss it. Ireland were too good on the day for their win to be attributed to one decision, but England certain didn’t get the rub of the green.
In the aftermath of an enthralling, exciting and downright barmy championship it is easy to get more than a little carried away. Sunday morning’s papers proclaimed that Ireland were world beaters, while England were in crisis. We will only find out how true those two statements are true in time, and well after they have returned from their summer tours to Australia and South Africa respectively. One thing that is certain is that this Irish side has a great deal of potential, while Eddie Jones has a number of issues that he will need to fix before England first Test in Johannesburg on June 9.