Wins for Irish men’s and women’s rugby teams mark a special sporting weekend

Matches underline the robust health of the game notwithstanding real fears about concussion injuries and the physicality issue

 

If the essence of the best sporting drama is great skill, unfortunate mistakes, nail-biting anxiety and unfettered joy, the final weekend of the 2015 Six Nations Championship delivered on a scale to match anything witnessed by any generation through the years. From midday on Saturday through to Sunday afternoon, sports fans and those with only a passing interest in rugby were treated to some of the most memorable moments in the rich history of the sport in this country.

The weekend may have ended in celebration with the joyous sight of Irish captains Paul O’Connell and Niamh Briggs lifting the Six Nations trophies for both the men’s and women’s championship but those images hardly do justice to the extraordinary events that unfolded before those presentations could be made.

Having watched Wales run up a huge victory over Italy in the first game of the day, Ireland went about the task of beating Scotland by at least 21 points with the type of disciplined display that has won Joe Schmidt’s team the respect and admiration of supporters well beyond these shores. The eventual 30-point winning margin seemed more than sufficient to guarantee back-to-back titles but no one could have scripted the drama that followed at Twickenham as England set about chasing down Ireland’s 26 point advantage.

Like prize fighters throwing punch and counter punch, the English and French sides traded scores at an astonishing rate and put their own supporters and the watching Irish fans through a rollercoaster of emotions. Initial Irish confidence, which gave way to doubt as England built an early lead, was restored with some sublime French tries before the English side mounted a ferocious last quarter. Those fraught last few minutes proved just how compelling the Six Nations can be despite some sterile rugby in earlier rounds.

Faced with a similar challenge to their male counterparts of reeling in a significant points difference, the Ireland women’s team delivered a performance against Scotland that was on a par with their outstanding displays at last summer’s World Cup.

Both Irish victories underlined the robust health of the game at all levels notwithstanding real fears about concussion injuries and how the game has become too physical.

It is a measure of how far the Irish rugby team has evolved under coach Joe Schmidt that the national team is now regarded as a realistic contender for the World Cup in the autumn. Successive Six Nations victories, a heart-breaking near miss against the All Blacks in 2013 as well as recent wins over Australia and South Africa have underlined the team’s right to be considered among the world’s best teams. But no matter how the team fares in the World Cup , the final weekend of the 2015 Six Nations will always be a precious milestone in Irish sport.