Ireland Get A B+ For Recent Title Defences
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Since the Five Nations became the Six Nations at the turn of the millennium, Irish rugby has played a crucial role in the success of the tournament. After arresting a 24-year-old hoodoo in the tournament in 2009, Ireland have become one of the Six Nations’ most eye-catching teams in the last few years, with four wins and two Grand Slams since.
The reigning holders have had three Six Nations title defences before and the first two came with particularly easy starts. In 2010, Grand Slam Ireland got to play Italy at Croke Park and – as expected – beat them easily by a 29-11 scoreline. However, there is always some degree of peril associated with easy starts and the Irish followed that up with a terrible 33-10 drubbing at the hands of France in Paris.
Ireland’s last six 5N/6N title defences have indicated that a good start is crucial to success.
Pride before a fall
Ultimately, that was the Six Nations right there, as even victories against England and Wales couldn’t prevent Ireland’s final game (against Scotland) from escaping ‘dead rubber’ status, as France won the Grand Slam. Ireland wouldn’t have another title defence opportunity again until 2015 when they once again played Italy. As they are favourites in current Six Nations outright odds right now, so too were Ireland outright favourites then – and they duly picked up a 26-3 win in Rome.
As fate would have it, their next game would be against France. This time, the French weren’t as strong and, without the comfort of home surroundings, ‘Les Bleus’ were kicked into submission by Johnny Sexton. The powerhouse hit home five penalties, as Ireland registered an 18-11 win without needing to score a single try. Indeed, only a late French try gave the scoreline a deceptively close look.
Curiously, that 2015 opener remains the first and last time that Ireland won the Six Nations outright after an opening day win as reigning champions.
When an opener is a cup final…
An impressive win against England gave them Grand Slam hope but that was crushed in the next game by Wales. In one of the most dramatic final days in Six Nations history, it all came down to goal difference with Ireland, Wales and England all on six points. All teams won their final games, but Ireland’s 30-point win over Scotland saw them retain the trophy by mere virtue of point difference.
Ireland went into the 2016 Six Nations hoping for three Championships in a row and their fans believed it would happen. However, the campaign got off to an awkward start: Sexton’s late penalty was only enough to salvage a draw against Wales. It was a damaging blow at the Aviva Stadium and that pain continued with a one-point loss to France. Another loss against England sealed their fate and ensured that this title defence wouldn’t be a successful one.
Ultimately, recent history says you need to win at least four games to win the Six Nations. In the 19 years since becoming so, no nation has won it with just three pool victories and 2014 showed us a team can get four wins and still finish third. From an emotional standpoint, this makes the opening game against England even more mouthwatering.
There can also be no doubt that the winner of England vs. Ireland will automatically become the odds-on favourite to win the tournament and possibly the favourite to net the Grand Slam. If Ireland want to retain their trophy, they are going to have to down their old enemy.