Andy Farrell has been patient and consistent in trying to change the Irish rugby psyche that traditionally manifests itself in a deep-rooted suspicion and discomfort when saddled with expectation or favouritism. The mantle of underdog has been a snugger fit in the past.
Throughout his tenure as Ireland head coach, but especially since last summer’s tour to New Zealand, Farrell has extolled the virtues of embracing adversity and not looking for excuses when faced with challenging circumstances.
He’s fostered a culture that enabled an historic first victory in New Zealand and Test series win against the All Blacks, a drawn series with the Maori All Blacks, a clean sweep in November and, despite missing several frontline players at various stages through injury, an unbeaten run to this stage of the Six Nations Championship, where Ireland stands on the threshold of a fourth Grand Slam.
For the sixth time since the inaugural Six Nations in 2000 England and Ireland meet with a Grand Slam at stake for one or other country; only once, in 2003, were both teams chasing a clean sweep of victories in the tournament. On that occasion England administered a hefty 42-6 thrashing and later that year went on to win the World Cup, beating Australia in the final.
On three other occasions England travelled to Dublin chasing a Grand Slam, as strong favourites in 2001, 2011 and 2017, only to be denied by their hosts, those victories and their principal characters part of Irish rugby folklore.
In 2018 Joe Schmidt’s Ireland went to Twickenham and produced a stunning display, returning home laden down with silverware. On Saturday it is England who can swing freely, unencumbered. Farrell has been brilliant in getting his teams to embrace the occasional chaos and disruption without flinching and if Ireland maintain that mindset and performance levels, another milestone awaits.
Ireland 20 England 14
It was the year of the Foot & Mouth outbreak that saw the Six Nations broken into two tranches, the spring and autumn. Ireland beat Italy and France but when their campaign resumed in September, they lost 32-10 to Scotland at Murrayfield. Eddie O’Sullivan’s team hammered Wales in Cardiff 36-6 before welcoming an unbeaten England, who had scored 28 tries in three wins.
It was the third year in succession that England were going for a Grand Slam, having been denied by Wales (1999) and Scotland (2000). Ireland added their names to that list with a 20-14 victory. Captain Keith Wood scored the Irish try from a lineout move, with the late Anthony Foley the primary facilitator.
David Humphreys and Ronan O’Gara kicked the remainder of Ireland’s points, while the game will also be recalled for Peter Stringer’s brilliant, try-saving tap tackle on England wing Dan Luger. The current Ireland backs’ coach Mike Catt had a superb match in the centre for the visitors.
Ireland: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, K Maggs, D Hickie; D Humphreys, P Stringer; P Clohessy, K Wood (capt), J Hayes; M Galwey, M O’Kelly, E Miller, D Wallace, A Foley. Replacements: F Sheahan, E Byrne, T Brennan, K Dawson, G Easterby, R O’Gara, M Mullins.
England: I Balshaw; D Luger, W Greenwood, M Catt, J Robinson; J Wilkinson, M Dawson (capt); J Leonard, P Greening, J White; S Shaw, D Grewcock; M Corry, N Back, R Hill. Replacements: D West, G Rowntree, S Borthwick, L Moody, K Bracken, A Healey, M Perry.
Ireland 6 England 42
‘Carpet-gate.’ England captain Martin Johnson refused to budge when asked to move his team and allow Ireland to line up on the Lansdowne Road end of the ‘carpet’. Brian O’Driscoll took the Irish team down past the visitors, the upshot of which was that the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, had to walk on the grass as she was presented to the home team.
English coach Clive Woodward, years later, would observe, having accused Ireland of being conspicuously disruptive in the build-up to the game: “We generally didn’t know where we were supposed to stand or where we weren’t supposed to stand. But I liked the way he [Johnson] reacted; I thought it was absolutely fantastic.”
The Grand Slam was on the line for both teams, Ireland led 3-0 through a David Humphreys drop goal but their last score came when the outhalf kicked a penalty on 27 minutes; thereafter England racked up 35 points without reply and would go on to beat an Eddie Jones-coached Australia in the World Cup final later that year.
Ireland: G Murphy; J Bishop, B O’Driscoll (capt), K Maggs, D Hickie; D Humphreys, P Stringer; M Horan, S Byrne, J Hayes; M O’Kelly, G Longwell; V Costello, K Gleeson, A Foley. Replacements: F Sheahan, J Fitzpatrick, P O’Connell, A Quinlan, G Easterby, R O’Gara, G Dempsey.
England: J Lewsey; J Robinson, W Greenwood, M Tindall, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, M Dawson; G Rowntree, S Thompson, J Leonard; M Johnson (capt), Ben Kay; R Hill, N Back, L Dallaglio. Replacements: D West, T Woodman, D Grewcock, J Worsley, K Bracken, P Grayson, D Luger.
Ireland 24 England 8
Eight years after England claimed a Grand Slam in Dublin, they were back hunting another, this time with Martin Johnson as head coach and Harlequins number eight Nick Easter as captain. It was the first Six Nations campaign at the newly built Aviva Stadium and a Declan Kidney-coached Ireland team had lost to France at home and Wales (quick throw, wrong ball controversy) in Cardiff.
Once again Ireland would defy and deny an England team that had carried all before them until that point. Tommy Bowe scored an early try for Ireland, but it was their second of the match that was notable for a historic milestone.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll’s fifth of that campaign marked his 25th in the tournament and took him past the record held by Scotland wing Ian Smith since 1933. Johnny Sexton, who will lead Ireland on Saturday, kicked four penalties and a conversion as the home side won convincingly, 24-8.
Ireland: K Earls; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; S O’Brien, D Wallace, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, L Cullen, D Leamy, P Stringer, R O’Gara, P Wallace.
England: B Foden; C Ashton, M Banahan, S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood, B Youngs; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole; L Deacon, T Palmer; T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter (capt). Replacements: S Thompson, P Doran-Jones, S Shaw, T Croft, D Care, J Wilkinson, D Strettle.
Ireland under Joe Schmidt had won two (Italy and France) and lost two of their Six Nations games that season before squaring off against an unbeaten England in Dublin. The home side lost number eight Jamie Heaslip ostensibly to a back injury in the warm-up; he never played rugby again, announcing his retirement almost a year later in February 2018.
Andrew Conway made his international debut, replacing Keith Earls in a game in which the home side triumphed 13-9. Iain Henderson scored the Irish try with Johnny Sexton kicking a conversion and two penalties. Owen Farrell landed three penalties.
Ireland’s win inflicted a first defeat of Eddie Jones’ reign as England coach and ended a sequence of 18 consecutive victories for the visitors. It was the second time in six months that Schmidt’s charges beat a team with 18 straight wins, having done so to New Zealand the previous November in Chicago, a first victory for the senior men’s national side over the All Blacks.
Ireland: J Payne; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, K Marmion; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, I Henderson; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, CJ Stander. Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, J Ryan, D Toner, D Leavy, L McGrath, P Jackson, A Conway.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (capt), D Cole; J Launchbury, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Haskell, B Vunipola. Replacements: M Vunipola, J George, K Sinckler, N Hughes, T Wood, D Care, B Te’o, J Nowell.
England 15 Ireland 24
Ireland had won the Six Nations Championship before the final round of fixtures but chased a Grand Slam at a snowy Twickenham. The pregame controversy saw touch judge Marius van der Westhuizen replaced by Nigel Owens after the South African had attended an English training session during the week of the match.
Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale scored the Ireland tries while Tadhg Furlong was the official man-of-the-match in a 24-15 win for Joe Schmidt’s team. The victory was Ireland’s first in Twickenham since 2010 and inflicted a first Six Nations defeat for England at home in 15 matches, ending a run of 14 straight wins in all games at the London venue.
Ireland captain and hooker Rory Best and fullback Rob Kearney share the distinction of being the only Ireland players to have won multiple Grand Slams, having also been part of the 2009 success under Declan Kidney.
England: A Watson; J May, J Joseph, B Te’o, E Daly; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, D Hartley (capt), K Sinckler, M Itoje, G Kruis; C Robshaw, J Haskell, S Simmonds. Replacements: J George, J Marler, D Cole, J Launchbury, D Armand, D Care, G Ford, M Brown.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan I Henderson, P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.