Scummy but proud Ireland fans hoping for St Patrick’s Day victory parade
Frank McNally: Grand slam would make view from Six Nations summit all the sweeter
Grand-slam decider: Dylan Hartley and Rory Best, the England and Ireland captains. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
One of the many St Patrick’s Day parties in London this weekend is at the top of the Shard, the city’s tallest and spikiest building. It’s probably not as uncomfortable a venue as it sounds. Either way, the Ireland rugby team find themselves occupying a similarly precarious location today as they go in search of a third grand slam.
Nothing that happens at Twickenham this afternoon can deprive Joe Schmidt’s men of top spot in the 2018 Six Nations. It’s just that the view from the summit will be all the more spectacular should they beat the other five teams in the championship, something Ireland have done only twice before, in 1948 and 2009.
But, as England can testify, the sharp end of grand-slam attempts is often an uncomfortable place to be. Repeatedly in recent memory they reached the season’s finale with four wins from four only to be impaled in the fifth. As in 2017, at Lansdowne Road, the honour of bursting the bubble has often fallen to Ireland.
The same thing happened in the foot-and-mouth-interrupted championship of 2001, when England’s grand-slam bandwagon rolled until October, at which point a Keith Wood-inspired Ireland punctured all four tyres.
There was an echo of that year’s epidemic this week when England’s head coach, Eddie Jones, was belatedly diagnosed with a related condition – foot-in-mouth disease – after a video emerged of him calling the Irish “scummy” at a corporate event last year.
That and a third consecutive defeat today would have England rugby fans calling for Jones to be the subject of a slaughter policy. Seasoned Ireland fans, meanwhile, are pretending hard to be offended by his comment while secretly hoping it’s the thing that galvanises their team to victory.
But Schmidt has played the insult down, and, at least publicly, his cerebral approach to rugby has no place for the pursuit of vendettas. If Ireland win today at England rugby HQ it will probably not be by getting their Twickers in a (red) mist.
Ireland have good recent form in winning championship deciders away from home. They clinched the 2014 title in Paris and 12 months later repeated the trick on a dramatic last day in Edinburgh. By way of further encouragement, the sole Irish grand slam this century was completed in Cardiff.
A win at Twickenham today would break new ground. And although England don’t lose often here, Ireland teams historically have not found London as intimidating a venue as Paris.
The bookmakers make Ireland very slight favourites, with the handicap suggesting they should win by a point, as they did on a famous occasion in 1982, when Gerry McLoughlin crashed over a try line “festooned with Saxons” for the crucial score.
Whatever happens, London’s main St Patrick’s Day celebrations will be a day later than Dublin’s, tomorrow. The scummy-but-proud Ireland fans will be hoping it’s a victory parade.