Andy Farrell is one win away from becoming the first Ireland head coach to seal a Five/Six Nations Grand Slam in Dublin
Dublin (AFP) - Andy Farrell has the opportunity to become the first Ireland head coach to seal a Five or Six Nations Grand Slam in Dublin should his side beat England on Saturday.
Victory would be extra special for Ireland captain Johnny Sexton in what will be his 60th and final Six Nations match. He is a Dubliner and while Ireland have won three previous Grand Slams, the clinching victories have never come in his home town, but in Belfast in 1948, Cardiff in 2009 and at Twickenham in 2018.
Both will hope it is the springboard for the Irish to finally get past the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals later this year.
England arrive on the back of the record 53-10 hammering at home by France but will want to restore some lustre to their reputation.
Steve Borthwick’s players will also hope to deny Ireland a Grand Slam just as their hosts have done to them in 2001, 2011 and 2017.
Here AFP Sports picks out three key things for the match:
Hansen and Lowe – Ireland’s Antipodean flyers
Australia-born wing Mack Hansen has been a standout performer for Ireland in the Six Nations though his remark everybody hates England may put a target on his back in Saturday's match
Mack Hansen and James Lowe sound like a duo of composers of musicals and these two wings have certainly been on song in the tournament.
Credit must go to Farrell for blooding them since he took over at the helm after the 2019 World Cup – New Zealand-born Lowe breaking through first followed by Hansen, who was born in Australia but has an Irish mother.
Questions have been raised about Lowe’s defence but his killer instinct for scoring tries, his ability to produce massive clearances with the boot and his infectious enthusiasm compensate richly.
Hansen – whose moustache sparks some jesting among team-mates – has won successive Man of the Match awards against Italy and Scotland.
The 24-year-old, though, has perhaps put himself high up the list of receiving extra attention from Saturday’s opponents with his remarks about England.
“I think everybody hates England in general,” he said after last Sunday’s 22-7 victory over Scotland.
England bid to gatecrash Grand Slam party
Grand Slam chasing Ireland expect a fired up England to come at them and rebound from the record 53-10 home hammering by France
The bookies and punters may not entertain the thought that England can rebound in a week from the French humbling but the Irish players, certainly publicly, disagree.
“Bloody dangerous,” was how grizzled prop Cian Healy put it when talking about the English while Sexton and Peter O’Mahony were not going to be lulled into thinking the Grand Slam was a given.
They agreed with England head coach Steve Borthwick, who promised on Thursday that his side would “once again want to show the sort of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales.”
His Ireland counterpart Farrell – who knows Borthwick well from their days at Saracens – is expecting a motivated England.
“Of course, 100% they will come out fighting and they’re going to be formidable opponents,” he said.
“So I think they’ll have the emotional edge, obviously. There’s no better tonic, is there than getting back out there and playing again and putting a few things right.”
Fairytale Six Nations ending for Sexton
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton could have a dream like ending to his 60th and final Six Nations appearance achieving the Grand Slam and the tournament's all-time record points scorer
Sexton, who was in tears at the anthems prior to the win over France, admits he has “got a bit more emotional” as he has “gone on”.
His 60th and final Six Nations appearance seems set up for a Hollywood ending.
The 37-year-old Irish talisman could set a new tournament all-time points record – he is level on 557 points with his predecessor as Ireland fly-half Ronan O’Gara.
Ever the hardest on himself, he says he is trying to suppress the emotion to focus on steering his team over the line.
“It’s special, of course, but it’s more about the team this week and getting the best performance that we can out there,” he said.
“I’d never be able to live with myself if you don’t turn up and play well.”
His fellow Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll bowed out of Six Nations and Test rugby with a memorable victory in France in 2014 when Sexton scored two tries.
For Sexton, though, there remains the World Cup in France later this year which he hopes could prove to be the crowning moment of his career.
“It’s not the last game with this team, well I certainly hope not,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot more of the journey left.”