Six Nations finale: An Ireland Grand Slam 'just a smidge below a World Cup win'

Six Nations finale: An Ireland Grand Slam 'just a smidge below a World Cup win'
Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton

Six Nations final weekend
Italy v Scotland (12:30 GMT) – 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Scotland, live text
England v Ireland (14:45 GMT) – 5 live, live text
Wales v France (17:00 GMT) – BBC One, 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, live text

Ireland can complete a Grand Slam for only the third time in their history, but must overcome reigning champions England on their own ground on Saturday to claim a Six Nations clean sweep.

If they do so, England’s World Cup winning scrum-half Matt Dawson believes it is an achievement that sits narrowly behind winning the World Cup.

“Grand Slams are so rare and so difficult to achieve with form, fitness, the bounce of the ball, the vagaries of the referee,” said the former Lions scrum-half.

“To come through, winning some big, big games, it would be just a smidge below winning a World Cup.”

Ireland’s victory over Scotland in Dublin last weekend wrapped up the Six Nations title and moved Joe Schmidt’s side above their final-round opponents into second place in the world rankings.

But with the World Cup in Japan only 18 months away, Saturday’s game is set to be a key test of their credentials for the tournament.

“If they don’t win the Grand Slam, this tournament won’t tell us anything new about Ireland,” BBC rugby reporter Chris Jones told 5 live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

“They will have won their three home games, beaten France away via the last kick of the game and lost to England at Twickenham.

“If they want to set the bar high and go to Japan as legitimate contenders, they need a Grand Slam to hang their hat on. That is what makes their season.

“If they lose, it will show they don’t have that consistency of winning away from home – that is still not a great tournament for Ireland.”

Media playback is not supported on this device

Ireland coach Schmidt agrees.

The New Zealander admitted his preparations for the fixture had been fuelled as much by the fear of defeat as the prospect of following in the footsteps of Ireland’s successes in 1948 and 2009.

Schmidt’s Ireland side denied England their own Grand Slam 12 months ago with a 13-9 win in Dublin on the tournament’s final weekend.

“I’d be more motivated and scared by that than thinking about how fantastic it would be,” said Schmidt about the possibility of England exacting revenge in a similar situation this year.

“There are times where you inevitably imagine the worst-case scenario. Worst-case scenario is that England hit the ground running and they actually win with a bit to spare.

“It would be a crushing way for us to finish a year of being unbeaten.”

England shuffle pack in bid for face-saving victory

England came into the tournament hunting their own piece of history in the shape of an unprecedented third successive outright title.

But, defeat to Ireland would be their third successive loss and, depending on other results, could consign them to a fifth-place finish.

Media playback is not supported on this device

After just one loss in the previous 25 Tests before their reverse against Scotland, and his own apology earlier this week for offensive comments he made last year about Ireland and Wales, it is the most difficult period of the Australian’s two-year stint so far.

“Without a doubt this is my testing time here,” he admitted.

“It’s the best time in rugby, when you are under the pump and you have got to produce it. And the team feels the same way.”

Jones has made seven personnel changes and three positional switches in an attempt to rediscover his side’s form, with fly-half George Ford among the high-profile figures relegated to the replacements.

Gatland aims to sign off with second and style

Warren Gatland

Victory at home to France would likely secure a second-place finish for Wales and coach Warren Gatland has picked the experienced Dan Biggar as the man to guide his team home from fly-half.

The 28-year-old, who will swap Ospreys for Northampton at the end of the season, has 61 caps. His rivals for the number 10 shirt, Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell, have a total of 23 between them.

It was Biggar who started last year’s encounter, which was settled in France’s favour by a 100th-minute converted try from Damien Chouly at the end of an extraordinary 20 minutes of added time.

‘We don’t want to be nearly men’

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell says his side need to deliver on a more regular basis despite wins over Ireland, Wales, Australia, France and England in the past 14 months.

“We’re building. ‘The nearly men’ isn’t the name we want,” Russell said.

Saturday gives Gregor Townsend’s side the chance to improve away form that lags well behind their performances at Murrayfield when they travel to Rome.

Italy are closing in on two unwanted landmarks. Defeat to the Scots would take them to 17 successive defeats in the tournament – equalling France’s record for the tournament set almost 100 years ago.

Meanwhile captain Sergio Parisse could become the first player to lose 100 Tests.

Australian Grand Prix 2018: Halos, Vegemite & F1's season return

Australian Grand Prix 2018: Halos, Vegemite & F1's season return
Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel

Melbourne is the sporting capital of the world… say the people of Melbourne, at least.

The award-winning city has everything a sports enthusiast could want; a bit of Grand Slam tennis here, a Boxing Day Ashes Test there.

For the Formula 1 nut, however, it signals the beginning of a rollercoaster calendar of simmering rivalry, high drama and fast racing.

And this year the stakes are higher than usual, as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel go head-to-head to become the most successful driver of their generation and claim a fifth world title ahead of the other.

The Australian Grand Prix also brings with it a new dawn in car design, with the controversial Halo device having its first competitive run out in Albert Park.

With new owners Liberty Media also in charge, F1’s hierarchy will be hoping the Aussies can serve up plenty of razzmatazz and audience engagement.

Thousands of fans and a buzzing atmosphere is something Australia has never struggled with. Tumbleweed blowing through an empty grandstand could come later in the season.

A lack of mental sharpness mixed with unpredictable weather also brings together a challenging experience for the drivers, and excitement for the crowds.

The locals here have a saying: “you’re only a true Melbournian when you’ve used an umbrella, scarf, sunglasses, sunscreen and thongs (or flip flops to us Brits) – on the same day.”

Australian Grand Prix 2002

Rewind to 2017 and Sebastian Vettel took first blood with an opening race victory against rival Lewis Hamilton. Both drivers are now level in the all-time winners list with four drivers’ championships.

The stage is set and the countdown nearly complete. In the words of the most recent world champion: “Let’s get to racing.”

Previously in Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton wins the 2017 drivers' championship

Fernando Alonso during pre-season testing in Barcelona

Back pocket facts

  • Until 1966, all pubs in Melbourne closed at 6pm
  • Vegemite was invented in Melbourne in 1922 after months of laboratory tests by food technologist Dr Cyril P Callister
  • Before Melbourne was called Melbourne, it was named Batmania after John Batman, a colonist farmer from Tasmania who landed in Port Philip Bay in May 1835
  • The Black Box flight recorder was invented in 1958 by Dr David Warren at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne. Warren’s father had died in a plane crash over the Bass Strait in 1934.

The track

Australian GP track graphic

Flashback vote

What is your most memorable Australian Grand Prix moment? Don’t keep it to yourself – share it with the rest of us.

Below you can vote on six highlights from previous races. Will it be the first-corner carnage of 2002 that gets the nod?

Or how about the Michael Schumacher v Damon Hill showdown of 1994?

Pick your favourite and we’ll reveal the results online and during 5 live F1’s Australian GP preview.

If you are viewing this page on the BBC News app please click here to vote.

Drivers’ social

Lewis Hamilton Instagram

Romain Grosjean Twitter

Valtteri Bottas Twitter

How to follow on BBC Sport

BBC Sport has live coverage of all the season’s races on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, plus live online commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app – including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, voting, features, interviews and video content.

All times GMT until Sunday 25 March when BST begins. Times are subject to change at short notice.

Australian Grand Prix coverage details
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday, 22 March Preview20:00-21:00 BBC Radio 5 live
Friday, 23 March First practice00:55-02:35 BBC Sport online From 00:30
Second practice04:55-06:35BBC Sport online From 04:30
Saturday, 24 March Third practice02:55-04:04 BBC Sport online From 02:30
Qualifying05:55-07:05BBC Radio 5 liveFrom 05:00
Sunday, 25 March Race 06:10 BSTBBC Radio 5 liveFrom 04:30
Monday, 26 March Review 04:30-05:00 & podcastBBC Radio 5 live

Cheltenham Festival: Native River romps to Gold Cup success

Breaking news

Native River romped to victory in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham to give jockey Richard Johnson his second success in the Festival’s showpiece race.

The 5-1 shot led throughout and outsprinted favourite Might Bite in the final straight, with Anibale Fly (33-1) third.

More to follow.

Mourinho launches 12-minute defence after Champions League exit

Mourinho launches 12-minute defence after Champions League exit
Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has said he is not “afraid of his responsibilities” during a 12-minute defence of his record in the wake of the Champions League exit to Sevilla.

The Portuguese had been criticised for his approach over both legs, leading him to go on a wide-ranging monologue before Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton, beginning his press conference with: “I am alive.”

“I am not going to run away or disappear or to cry because I heard a few boos,” said the 55-year-old.

Mourinho arrived at the news conference for Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton with pre-prepared notes.

United suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Sevilla on Tuesday and after the match Mourinho said being knocked out of the Champions League at home in the last 16 was “nothing new for the club”.

The defeat came three days after United had beaten Liverpool 2-0 to strengthen their grip on second place in the league.

Addressing the fans’ anger on Friday, he said: “I say to the fans that the fans are the fans and have the right to their opinions and reactions, but there is something that I used to call football heritage.”

He explained “football heritage”, saying United have only reached the Champions League quarter-finals once since losing the 2011 final.

The Red Devils have now won just one out of their past nine knockout games in the competition and have been knocked out at this stage in two of their past three campaigns.

Analysis

BBC Sport’s Simon Stone

There are some moments in a football journalist’s career that will live with them forever. Today falls right into that category.

Jose Mourinho came prepared. Not the way Louis van Gaal did when he spoke about ‘Big Sam’ but with a neat piece of green paper underneath his diary.

On it was written Man Utd’s finishing positions in every season since 2013 and how they had fared in Europe. He had the same stats for Manchester City.

He started by saying ‘I am alive’. Then he answered four questions before being asked about the fans’ response to Tuesday’s Champions League exit.

That was the cue. Apart from a two word start of a question he cut off, Mourinho spoke for 12-and-a-half minutes without stopping.

More to follow.