Oval Talk

On this day in 1948: Ireland win their first Grand Slam

Oval Talk

Ireland won their first ever Five Nations Championship rugby Grand Slam on this day in 1948 after beating Wales 6-3 in their final game in Belfast.

Left wing Barney Mullan and prop Jack Daly each scored tries to secure their fourth victory in the tournament and beat all of its participants.

Daly, who scored in the final minutes after Wales’s brilliant centre Bleddyn Williams equalised, was later carried shoulder-high by jubilant fans, who also stole his shirt.

It would be his final match for Ireland after the charismatic player, who performed double back somersaults before games, switched to rugby league afterwards.

The Irish, who failed to score any of their conversions or three penalty kicks that game, would also not win the Grand Slam again for another 61 years.

Their 1948 victories over France, Scotland and Wales were all hard fought – with no more than a seven-point margin separating Ireland from their rivals.

But the toughest match they played was against England at Twickenham – a game they only narrowly won 11-10.

Silent British Pathé footage of the game shows thousands of Irish fans pouring on to the pitch as they celebrated their victory over their bitterest rivals.

To the Irish, it seemed like a coming of age, both in sporting terms - in which their national team represented Eire and Northern Ireland – and politically.

The southern 26 counties had only secured independence from Britain 22 years earlier following a bloody guerrilla war.

And 1948 was the year Ireland’s leaders would seize their chance to end links with the British monarchy altogether and vote to become a republic.

The resentment many Irish, especially Catholic ones, felt towards the English ensured that rugby encounters between the two nations were always fiercely contested.

The 1948 tournament was the fifth time Ireland had won either the Five Nations or the Home Nations championship, its precursor prior to 1910 when the French entered.

It had also won the Triple Crown – victories against England, Scotland and Wales – three times by that point, with its first only the second year of the tournament in 1884

Ireland went on to retain the Five Nations championship and Triple Crown in 1949 and won the main tournament again in 1951.

They would play their last match in Northern Ireland for 53 years in 1954 when 11 Republic-based players refused to stand for God Save The Queen alongside the Scottish team.

Barring a win against Australia in 1958, Ireland would spend the next two decades in rugby wilderness - with most of their handful of victories against England.

The bitter political divide would once again mar the Five Nations when in 1972 Wales and Scotland refused to play in Ireland after receiving alleged IRA death threats.

The following season the English team were given a five-minute standing ovation at Lansdowen Road, Dublin when they showed up despite facing similar threats.

In 1974, Ireland won their first Five Nations tournament since 1951.

They won twice more – in 1982 and 1985 – but this would be their last silverware until 2004, when the they won the Triple Crown but missed out on the main championship, which had become the Six Nations after Italy’s admission in 1999.

Ireland – after narrowly missing out on earlier championships – won the Grand Slam again in 2009 during a season in which they even went unbeaten by Southern Hemisphere sides.

It was their 11th win in either the Home Nations, Five Nations or Six Nations tournament.

They have failed to win any silverware since then.

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