They have done it and boy, did they do it the hard way! A late drop goal from Ronan O’Gara steered Ireland to a tension-filled 17-15 win over Wales and the nation’s first Grand Slam since 1948.
2009 RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 21
WALES 15 IRELAND 17, Millennium Stadium
Scorers: Wales: Pens: Stephen Jones 4; Drop: Stephen Jones
Ireland: Tries: Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe; Cons: Ronan O’Gara 2; Drop: Ronan O’Gara
There were heart-stopping moments, none more so than when Stephen Jones stepped up to try and land a last-minute penalty, but Declan Kidney’s men held out for one of the most exciting and memorable victories in Irish sporting history.
The Triple Crown, RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam were all annexed as converted tries from Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe, early in the second half, proved the catalyst for win number five of the Championship.
The match, watched by a capacity crowd, lived up to its billing. The big players, man-of-the-match O’Driscoll, the relentless Paul O’Connell and the nerveless Ronan O’Gara, all stepped up to the mark but there were heroes dotted all around the pitch.
This was not about individuals though. As a unit, Ireland have been magnificent in recent weeks and for sheer hard work, talent and spirit, this squad and management team deserve every plaudit they get.
Wales led 15-14 entering the closing stages, but O’Gara came up trumps when it really mattered as Ireland emulated the achievement of Karl Mullen’s Ireland team of 1948.
Ireland’s victory also consigned Wales to a fourth place Championship finish just a year after winning the Grand Slam.
England finished second, with France third courtesy of their emphatic triumph over Italy in Rome.
Before the title decider, Wales suffered a late injury blow when number 8 Andy Powell was ruled out of the contest through a thigh muscle injury suffered in training on Friday.
Scarlets forward Dafydd Jones replaced him, with Ospreys flanker Jonathan Thomas moving onto the bench, but Ireland had no last-minute problems.
Confirmation of the stakes came immediately when Wales skipper Ryan Jones and Ireland lock Donncha O’Callaghan squared up following an apparent trip by Jones on O’Gara.
Ireland were awarded the penalty but O’Gara drifted his kick wide.
Ireland continued to enjoy territorial supremacy but could not make their advantage count as the opening quarter ended scoreless.
The Irish management were also forced into an early substitution when a dislocated finger ended Stephen Ferris’ evening and Denis Leamy was brought into the fray.
Wales threatened fleetingly and full-back Lee Byrne looked to launch his fellow backs but Ireland appeared comfortable in defence and in the lineout, Paul O’Connell was thriving on both balls.
There were signs though of pressure growing on Ireland and Wales gained in confidence as a tense first half drew to its close.
Jones’ second penalty doubled the Welsh advantage and an enthralling opening period ended with Wales 6-0 ahead.
The closest either side came to a try in the opening 40 minutes came when Luke Fitzgerald did well to dot down in the left corner, but play was called back for a forward pass from O’Driscoll.
The home side were in the ascendancy, knowing a converted try would give them a 13-point advantage they required to deny Ireland title glory.
Ireland, though, had other ideas and they wiped out Wales’ advantage within four minutes of the restart.
Sustained pressure had Wales stretched defensively after a break by Bowe and after a series of pick and drives from the forwards, O’Driscoll stretched out to claim the touchdown under pressure from Wales hooker Matthew Rees.
Television match official Romain Poite confirmed the touchdown and Ireland were up and running, with O’Gara’s conversion giving the visitors momentum.
And before Wales could recover Ireland struck again, leaving Warren Gatland’s side in a state of disarray.
O’Gara had the vision to test Wales’ back-three defence with a delicate kick and fatal hesitancy between Gavin Henson, who had slotted in at full-back for the injured Byrne, and winger Shane Williams resulted in a second Irish touchdown.
Bowe was the recipient, grasping his chance – and a neat bounce – majestically to sweep clear and take Ireland within sight of Grand Slam glory.
Wales were rocked by such a double setback but Jones soon completed his penalty hat-trick to keep the game alive, and he then slotted a fourth penalty that cut the home side’s deficit to just two points.
Ireland knew it was a case of trying to close the game out, but after surviving a long range Henson penalty attempt, they could not survive any longer.
A Jones drop goal looked to have destroyed Ireland’s Grand Slam dream following a blistering break by scrum half Mike Phillips, when he smashed through three Irish defenders.
But Ireland were not to be denied as the day culminated in vice-captain O’Connell lifting the Triple Crown trophy before RBS man-of-the-match O’Driscoll – fittingly – looked after the main business of raising the Championship crown aloft.
TIME LINE: 3 minutes – Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O’Gara – 0-0; 33 mins – Wales penalty: Stephen Jones – 3-0; 39 mins – Wales penalty: Stephen Jones – 6-0; Half-time – Wales 6 Ireland 0; 44 mins – Ireland try: Brian O’Driscoll – 6-5; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 6-7; 46 mins – Ireland try: Tommy Bowe – 6-12; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 6-14; 51 mins – Wales penalty: Stephen Jones – 9-14; 56 mins – Wales penalty: Stephen Jones – 12-14; 68 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Gavin Henson – 12-14; 75 mins – Wales drop goal: Stephen Jones – 15-14; 78 mins – Ireland drop goal: Ronan O’Gara – 15-17; 80 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Stephen Jones – 15-17; Full-time – Wales 15 Ireland 17
WALES: Lee Byrne; Mark Jones, Tom Shanklin, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones, Dafydd Jones, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (capt).
Replacements used: Jamie Roberts for Byrne (31 mins, inj), Luke Charteris for Gough, Huw Bennett for Rees (both 56). Not used: John Yapp, Jonathan Thomas, Warren Fury, James Hook.
IRELAND: Robert Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Denis Leamy for Ferris (9 mins, inj), Tom Court for Hayes (24-28, blood sub), Geordan Murphy for Kearney (67), Rory Best for Flannery (68), Peter Stringer for O’Leary (70), Paddy Wallace for Fitzgerald (77). Not used: Mick O’Driscoll.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)