Ireland come into the Six Nations as defending Grand Slam Champions. However, they have a much bigger target in sight this year in the shape of the World Cup. There is also a rather tantalising shot at potentially knocking New Zealand off the world number one spot.
The Algorithm has Ireland to win the Grand Slam, which is perhaps not surprising given their recent performances and current status as the world’s second best side. However, if we look a little closer, it may not be as easy as it first appears…
Ireland have 3 close games, all predicted to be within 10 points, any one of which could make or break their tournament.
Regardless of what happened last year in Twickenham, and England’s subsequent fall from grace, this is not going to be an easy game. Even when playing badly, England are a difficult team to put away and Ireland will have their work cut out to get their Championship defence off to a winning start. The pressure will be very much off England, and on Ireland as the reigning champions at home on opening weekend.
Many Irish may have overlooked this game, given the Scots perennial underdog status. However they would be wise to remember that they lost 27 – 22 on their last outing to Murrayfield, even going going behind 21 – 5 at one point. Scotland also beat England there last year, the trigger game in England’s stream of losses. Scotland have a strong record in Murrayfield currently, and have only lost to New Zealand and South Africa there in the last 2 years. And those only by 5 and 6 points respectively.
A terrifying place to go to try and win a rugby match, let alone a Grand Slam. Ireland’s Six Nations title ambitions have met with both success and failure there before; losing a shot at the Grand Slam in 2015, but also the venue of their 2009 Grand Slam. Wales have a strong home record currently, and should both sides remain unbeaten at this stage … well … it would quite a final match.
Ireland also have a shot at knocking New Zealand off the top spot in the World Rugby rankings, something a lot of Irish (and others around the world) would be excited to see. New Zealand have been top of the rankings since late 2009 so, perhaps just for the sake of variety, it might be nice to have someone else occupy the position. However, for Ireland to do it, they require a Grand Slam (NOTE: back to back Slams have never been achieved) and some other results to go their way.
For example, for Ireland to overtake the All Blacks they must win all their games, AND hope that Wales beat Scotland and England.
If Wales don’t win those games, then Ireland are unlikely to gain the required points from a final weekend showdown with the Welsh.
There are plenty of other permutations that could see a variety of things happen, and we’ll be sure to update for them as the results roll in. If you are particularly interested in Ireland making number one, make sure you stay tuned!
It’s never been done before.
However, three sides have come close. Both France in 2005 and Wales in 2013 won four of their five games, the year after they won the Grand Slam. However they both lost one match mid-tournament, so there Grand Slam hopes were dashed quickly.
England in 2017 came the closest where they went 9 matches undefeated, only losing their final match to an inspired Ireland in Dublin.
However, should Ireland achieve this never-before-achieved feat, few (even in New Zealand) would begrudge them taking the number one spot. And looking ahead to the World Cup it would elevate the expectations being placed on this Irish team even further. Back to back slams and the world’s best side?
No pressure Ireland…