IRELAND'S loss to France in the opening match of this year’s Six Nations Championship was disappointing but, if we are realistic, we cannot expect Ireland to win every match every year. We are ranked second of the European nations behind France which, considering our playing base, is a fantastic achievement.
The win in our second match against England in Twickenham kept hopes alive of a Triple Crown, which in itself would be no mean feat.
Since the advent of professional rugby, some people are wont to dismiss Triple Crown’s. But that displays a distinct lack of appreciation of the difficulty of defeating the other three original rugby playing countries in one season. Triple Crowns are not won lightly and are not achieved every year. There have been 62 Triple Crown winners but against that, there have been 53 years when no team succeeded. Indeed, we only have 10 such achievements and four of those have been won by the present group of players. That is not a huge return after almost 130 years of international rugby. We went 49 years without one until the team led by Karl Mullen won in 1948 and Ciaran Fitzgerald’s team bridged a 33-year gap in 1982. We are far behind England’s total of 23 Crowns.
The Triple Crown has sometimes been called the Invisible Cup because for years, there was no actual trophy for the winners. It was simply the honour of the win. The phrase itself was possibly first used by The Irish Times when describing Ireland’s first such achievement. In 1894, their match report praised the Irish team for achieving Triple Crown honours when they defeated the other three countries.
Then, in 2006, the sponsors of the championship, Royal Bank of Scotland, presented a trophy for the Triple Crown winners and Brian O’Driscoll became the first man to accept it when Ireland beat England at Twickenham on the scoreline 28-24. Wales won in 2008 but apart from that, Ireland is the only team to have won and Brian O’Driscoll the only Irish captain to have accepted the new trophy.
In the past six seasons Ireland has won four Triple Crowns while Wales took two and both meet this Saturday in Croke Park. Wales has lost to England and Scotland have lost to Wales, so Ireland are the only team that can achieve the Triple Crown this season. Wales has proved a difficult test.
A loss in Cardiff in 2005 in the last match of the season cost Ireland a three-in-a-row run of Triple Crowns, a feat only achieved twice before, by Wales from ’76 to ’79 and England from ’95 to ’98. Again last year Ireland had to wait until the dying seconds to secure the championship again in Cardiff.
Ireland’s very first Triple Crown was won way back in 1894. In the first match, they defeated England away 7-5. Next up were Scotland in Lansdowne Road, when a gentleman named HG Wells scored a try in a 5-0 win. The last match was against Wales in Belfast and Ireland won their first Triple Crown when they won 3-0 on March 10, 1894 – 116 years ago this week.
n Michael Torpey