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Peter Stringer: Another Irish Grand Slam is there for the taking

05 Mar | news | BY Peter Stringer | MIN READ TIME |
Peter Stringer: Another Irish Grand Slam is there for the taking
Peter Stringer Betway column

The Betway ambassador believes Ireland's tougher game will be at Twickenham, but still can't see England being able to live with Andy Farrell's side.

There’s a real feel-good factor around this Ireland team, which is incredible after the heartbreak of the World Cup. People were talking about needing a rebuilding phase while they learned to cope without Johnny Sexton, but they’re still on that upward trajectory.

When Johnny retired, not only was there the void of the No.10 jersey to be filled, but also the absence of their captain that could prove costly from a game management perspective. Peter O’Mahony has filled those boots heroically. He’s also been fortunate to have other leaders emerge within the squad to assist with decision-making, which has meant that responsibility of captaincy has not detracted from his game, where he is often buried at the bottom of a ruck.

Jack Crowley has come in and shown a real level of maturity. He’s done the basics well and hasn’t tried to do too much. Yes, he’s got the ability to take the ball to the line and create something through offloads, but getting those fundamentals right is what it takes to be a really good player at international level. There’s been plenty of pressure on him, but he’s managed things well from that key position.

Ireland have been quite comfortable in the Six Nations so far and have only really had to play in fits and starts, but they’ve still shown glimpses of being able to go up a gear if needed. It’s certainly hard to see either England or Scotland stopping them from becoming the first team to win a second consecutive Grand Slam.

Ireland stronger than England all over the pitch

England is probably the tougher game on paper. Going to Twickenham is never easy, and they were so poor against Scotland that you’d expect there to be some sort of backlash. England have got some quality players, but I’m not sure any would force their way into this Irish team.

Jamie George is a great leader who has come into his own as captain, but Dan Sheehan has got it all and will be world-class. Maro Itoje is one of England’s most senior players, but the second rows for Ireland have been phenomenal. Tadhg Beirne was a doubtful starter not so long ago but has made the position his own and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

I’ve been so impressed with Ben Earl over the last 12-18 months, but this Irish back row is just so competitive. The loose forwards that Ireland are developing are just a new mode of player in terms of offering a line-out option, having an engine that goes all day and possessing pace, handling and great footwork. Caelan Dorris has barely missed a minute over the last 30 games and has been my standout player of the tournament so far.  

It will be fascinating to see how England approach the game. They tried to mix it up against Scotland but came up with so many errors, turnovers and spilt balls from poor passing. The threat that Ireland bring on both sides of the ball means England won’t want to get caught in their own half, so I have a feeling that they may go back to the territory kicking game that worked so well for them in the World Cup. It’s not pretty but it got them to a semi-final and is very effective.

France are flat, but Scotland are sizzling

The way that Ireland have kicked on since the World Cup is even more impressive when you compare it to the way that France have completely gone off the boil. It’s amazing what can happen to a team in such a short space of time. They’re a shadow of their former selves.

When you think about some of the breaks that have gone their way – with that late TMO decision against Scotland which, to my mind, should have been a try, and Italy hitting the post with the last kick of the game – they’re very lucky to not have lost three on the bounce.

We’ve seen huge improvements in Italy so their game against Scotland this weekend will be fascinating. I love watching Scotland play. They want to throw it around and, with their back line, have that ability to score from anywhere.

Duhan van der Merwe is about the only guy outside of the Ireland team who is putting his hand up for Player of the Tournament. Beating guys and creating something out of nothing is why we watch rugby, and he’s so special with ball in hand.

If Scotland can beat Italy then that final game in Dublin could have been a Grand Slam decider, but they’ll still be going for a Triple Crown and will have a lot to fight for with a potential championship on the line, depending on scorelines and bonus points.

If it was at Murrayfield, then that would have been a real pressure game, but Ireland at home are just too strong. There is a bit of frailty in the Scottish defence and I just feel that Ireland can grind it out over an 80-minute performance.

I was lucky enough to be part of the first Ireland team to win a Six Nations Grand Slam alongside some of the greats like Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara. It is such a difficult thing to do, particularly in years like this with games away to France and England.

Ireland are so well drilled, play with a huge amount of confidence and have a real identity. To go back-to-back in the manner they’re doing it – scoring so many tries and racking up bonus points – I think would cement them as the best Irish team ever.

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Peter Stringer

Peter Stringer

Irish rugby legend who played in two World Cups and made 98 appearances for his country in a decorated international career.

Peter Stringer

Peter Stringer

Irish rugby legend who played in two World Cups and made 98 appearances for his country in a decorated international career.