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Irish enjoy long-overdue slam

BRIAN O'Driscoll spent 10 years trying to explain why a talented Ireland team had not won the Six Nations championship and that the nation had not captured a grand slam for 61 years.

Not any more.

The Ireland captain scored one of the comeback tries as his team beat defending champion Wales 17-15 in Cardiff on Saturday to claim the Six Nations title for the first time since 1985 and complete a long overdue slam.

All those near misses are now history and the frustrating sight of Wales, England, France and Scotland marching off with the title since Ireland's triumph in the old Five Nations are forgotten.

"It's fantastic," said O'Driscoll, who had been so close to winning the title before in a decade of frustration. "It feels like reward for a lot of hard work over a lot of years. We have had some good times and some not so good times. This is a great time.

"We've never considered ourselves nearly men. The margins are so small. You need the occasional kick to drop two meters short and the odd refereeing decision. Overall we deserved it. Thankfully 10 years of luck came today. But we didn't panic when they knocked over that drop goal with four minutes to go. We were composed."

What the final game of the championship lacked in enterprising play and slick ball-handling, it more than made up for in passion and a thrilling finish.

Ireland led by two points with four minutes to go but Stephen Jones' drop goal to go with his four penalties put the Welsh back in front. The Irish refused to buckle and, after the forwards manufactured the chance with some powerful surges close to the Welsh line, they fed O'Gara who kicked the title-winning drop goal.

Even then it may not have been all over. Jones had another chance to kick the Welsh to victory and prevent the slam but his long-range effort was just short.

England, which finished the championship with an error-ridden 26-12 victory over Scotland, placed second ahead of France, which outplayed Italy 50-8 in Rome and Wales, grand slam winner last season, was left a disappointing fourth.

Whether Ireland can repeat its performance next season is another matter.

O'Driscoll is one of several veterans who have finally achieved the triumph after years of near misses and the likes of Girvan Dempsey, Ronan O'Gara, John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Geordan Murphy, Malcolm O'Kelly, Peter Stringer, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan have all turned 30 and might not have the same impact next season now they have the top prize in European rugby.

Ireland won by grinding out results rather than overwhelming rivals with flair and spectacular ball handling.

This season's Six Nations produced nothing to worry World Cup opponents such as the Tri Nations rugby giants New Zealand, South Africa and Australia or Argentina, which placed third at the last global championship in France.

England has made a slow start under manager Martin Johnson, despite its second place finish. Its game remains riddled with mistakes and unnecessary penalties and sinbins although Johnson is convinced his young stars, such as Delon Armitage, Toby Flood, and Danny Cipriani, will shine.


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