Ireland’s players have hailed their Grand Slam-winning performance against Wales on Saturday as a “massive moment” after years of underachieving in the Six Nations.
Ireland claimed their first clean sweep of the tournament since 1948 with their nail-biting 17-15 win over Wales, but lock Paul O’Connell admitted he thought his teammates had let the chance slip away.
When Paddy Wallace strayed offside with less than one minute of play remaining, Stephen Jones had the chance to boot Wales to victory.
Luckily for the Irish, his long-range effort fell short of the posts and Ireland could breathe a sigh of relief.
“I thought the Stephen Jones kick was going over,” said O’Connell, who had an immense game, particularly in the lineout, where his attacking play on the Welsh throw-in severely disrupted the home side’s hopes of decent set-piece ball.
“I saw it on target and thought we’d lost. It went from losing the whole thing to winning the whole thing in half a second,” he said. “It’s a massive moment. I’ve been playing for Ireland for seven years and we’ve had so many close calls. It’s been a long time coming and we wanted this more than anything.”
O’Connell, in the driving seat with Brian O’Driscoll in the race for the captaincy of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa this summer, said that Ireland had to battle through to victory.
“We’ve not played well the last three games but we just got the job done and got what we wanted,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was a case of now or never for this generation of players. But it was going to be one of our best chances and it doesn’t happen very often. We were lucky enough to take it.”
O’Driscoll, who had spoken after the match of Ireland having cashed in 10 years of luck for the win, added: “It would have broken my heart if that kick at the end had gone over. We couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic end than that, for Stephen to miss that penalty by a yard.”
“I’m so proud of the boys,” he said. “We took a lot of flak the last 18 months and to come back and win, I’m so delighted.”
Ireland were 6-0 down at half-time but came out flying in the second-half, scoring tries through O’Driscoll and the impressive Tommy Bowe, with Ronan O’Gara converting both, in the first six minutes.
Stephen Jones clawed Wales back into the game with two further penalties and a drop-goal four minutes from the end.
But O’Gara knocked over a drop-goal of his own before Jones’ last-gasp effort went wide to bring the curtain down on an enthralling game.
Ireland Coach Declan Kidney said: “It’s 80 minutes and you take what’s there at the end. Some days it swings for you and some days it doesn’t.”
ENGLAND 26, SCOTLAND 12
In Twickenham, England, the home team survived an error-strewn second half to complete a 26-12 victory over Scotland, reclaiming the Calcutta Cup and finishing their Six Nations campaign on a high.
Having suffered heavy criticism after their defeats by Wales and Ireland, England hit back with last week’s 34-10 thrashing of France and, extending their home stranglehold on the Scots, who have not won at Twickenham since 1983.
A first international try for wing Ugo Monye and a third in two games for impressive centre Riki Flutey helped England to a 15-3 halftime lead after Scotland had briefly threatened in the opening quarter.