Six Nations: How Ireland won their three previous Grand Slams

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

With Andy Farrell’s brilliant outfit just one victory from becoming the fourth Ireland side to win the Grand Slam, we delve into their previous triumphs.

From their first in 1948 to their most recent in 2018, there are plenty of great memories for Irish supporters.

1948 – 6-3 victory over Wales

Ireland had never won the Five Nations title outright prior to the 1948 campaign. They had some – but limited – success in the Championship’s first guise when only them, England, Scotland and Wales competed, but they struggled following France’s arrival.

That all changed in 1948 as they became Grand Slam champions for the first time. All four matches were tense and tight, but Ireland showed tremendous resilience to come out on the right side of the scoreline each time.

The opening clash against Les Bleus certainly laid the platform for their landmark run as the Irishmen visited Paris and came away with an impressive 13-6 win. It wouldn’t get any easier with a trip to England, but they emerged 11-10 triumphant over their bitter rivals to the delight of their supporters who poured onto the pitch in celebration.

Two weeks later, Ireland kept Scotland scoreless in a 6-0 victory before the Welsh visited in their finale. The title had already been assured but the Grand Slam had so far eluded them. However, that was to change on March 13, 1948 at Ravenhill as they overcame their opponents 6-3 in Belfast.

Barney Mullan and Jack Daly scored the tries, with the latter stating following his effort that, “if Wales don’t score again, I will be cannonised after this!” But it was fly-half Jack Kyle who was the linchpin in the side.

A wonderful playmaker, it was Kyle’s superb pass which set up Mullan’s try and he would help Ireland to a period of domination in Europe as they also secured outright Five Nations titles a year later, in 1949, and in 1951.

However, it was the Grand Slam in 1948 which is etched in Irish fans’ memories, with Kyle saying in 2000: “I don’t think we realised quite the significance it had, and the significance it was going to have. It was the only Grand Slam Ireland won in the century and who would have ever believed that was possible?”

2009 – 17-15 victory over Wales

It had been 61 long years since their last Grand Slam when the 2009 campaign rolled around. For those who have only seen a competitive Irish side it was rarely like that pre-2000. The 1990s were particularly depressing for their supporters as they never finished above fourth in the old Five Nations, but the new Millennium signalled a new Ireland.

Dubbed the country’s ‘golden generation’, which included genuine greats Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, among a few others, they became one of Europe’s leading teams. The Irishmen were often there or thereabouts, consistently challenging in the top half of the table, but they never actually won anything – well the main title at least.

The word ‘chokers’ began being bandied about and they needed some tangible reward for their years of competitiveness. In came head coach Declan Kidney, who took over from long-standing boss Eddie O’Sullivan after guiding Munster to Heineken Cup titles in 2006 and 2008, and he brought that winning mentality into the international set-up.

There was an immediate impact as they defeated bogey side France 30-21 in their opener before a dominant triumph over Italy put them in a good position. Although they were pushed by England, Ireland were much the better team for the 80 minutes with Delon Armitage’s late try making the 14-13 scoreline look much kinder on the Red Rose than the game actually was.

A 22-15 success at Murrayfield then set up Ireland’s most important game for 60 years against Wales, a team that had won the Grand Slam in 2008. It was a tense encounter but one where Ireland showed the great moments of quality. Kidney’s men overturned a half-time deficit with two quick-fire tries as O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe touched down for a 14-6 advantage.

Discipline was an issue for the visitors, however, and in the 76th minute Welsh fly-half Stephen Jones edged them in front. It looked set to be another season of disappointment for the Irish, but O’Gara had other ideas as produced the decisive action by slotting a drop-goal.

Jones did have a late, long-range three-point attempt with the clock in the red, but his speculative effort was off-target and Ireland could finally celebrate a Grand Slam.

2018 – 24-15 victory over England

Despite claiming the title in both 2014 and 2015 under Joe Schmidt, they weren’t quite good enough to win the Grand Slam. Defeats to Wales and England respectively ended their dreams but, after a barren couple of years in 2016 and 2017, they finally achieved perfection in 2018.

While the final match against England displayed the team’s all-round quality, it was a side initially based on steel, composure and the sheer brilliance of Johnny Sexton. Their opening encounter with France was hardly the most exhilarating and they found themselves 13-12 in arrears with the clock in the red.

Ireland found themselves inside their own half and knew one mistake would hand Les Bleus the victory, but they remarkably took the ball through 41 phases and into French territory. Schmidt’s charges were still a significant distance from the posts but Sexton decided to take responsibility and sweetly connected with a drop-goal that sailed between the uprights.

Cue delirium on the pitch as the Irish snatched an unlikely win. It was a triumph which would propel their campaign as they easily dispatched Italy, Wales and Scotland in the next rounds, leaving a defining clash with the Red Rose in the finale.

Eddie Jones’ men, the Six Nations winners from the previous two seasons, were lacking form and confidence but were still a dangerous proposition. However, Ireland were utterly brilliant and effectively won the game – and the Grand Slam – at the break via Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale tries.

Elliot Daly and Jonny May scored two late consolation tries for the Red Rose but, on St Patrick’s Day, it was very much the Irishmen’s moment as they painted Twickenham green.


While the previous two Six Nations Grand Slams were outstanding achievements, this campaign seems particularly significant. Of course, Farrell’s charges still have to finish the job, but it feels as though all the work that has gone on behind the scenes at the IRFU over the years has led to this year.

Ireland are not just a great European side, they are now the world’s best and their performances in this competition has shown why. There are no weaknesses in this squad of players and, as a result, no outfit has managed to get close to them.

Even an excellent France team – of course one which would later dispatch England 53-10 at Twickenham – were seen off by the Irishmen. They were also far too good for Wales, Italy and Scotland, leaving a match with the Red Rose to decide their fate.

Should they, as expected, dispatch Steve Borthwick’s men and do so in similarly imperious fashion, it would be their most impressive campaign. And with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, perhaps they can add a global title to their cabinet and become just the second northern hemisphere side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

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