x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ireland poised for grand finale

Ireland may be just 80 minutes away from their first Grand Slam title in 61 years but Declan Kidney, the head coach, is refusing to indulge in any chicken counting.

Ireland may be just 80 minutes away from their first Grand Slam title in 61 years but Declan Kidney, the head coach, is refusing to indulge in any chicken counting. After defeating Scotland 22-15 at Murrayfield on Saturday night, the Irish head to Cardiff on Saturday needing a win to complete their first clean sweep since 1948.

However, Kidney is mindful of the fact that Wales, their opponents and the holders of the Grand Slam, will be also be gunning for the title and the Triple Crown. "Let's see what happens," said Kidney. "We have to play Wales in Cardiff which is a very difficult thing to do. "I won't be shielding the players from the pressure. This is a week to be enjoyed. If you don't enjoy times like this you won't enjoy anything," he said.

"Our job is to stay professional. We'll prepare the same way for this one as we did with every other match, but admittedly this is new territory for everybody. "Wales will be tough. I'll be accused of mind games but they are defending Grand Slam champions and are playing at home." Peter Stringer, the scrum-half, believes Ireland are better equipped to claim the Grand Slam in 2009 than for their failed attempt six years ago.

In 2003 they met England at Lansdowne Road in a decider for the Six Nations' ultimate prize and were humbled 42-6. But Stringer, who started that match at scrum-half, is convinced Ireland will not be denied this time. "Going into that match, we found ourselves in a position we hadn't been in for a long while," he said. "But this squad has come a long way since then. A lot of success has been built on with the provinces and with Ireland."

Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, was left to bemoan his side's failure to translate their first-half dominance into points. "I thought we should have been out of sight at half time," he said. "We had opportunities in the first half to close out the game." Wales, meanwhile, were far from flawless in their 20-15 victory over Italy in Rome. But the Wales coach, Warren Gatland, felt the closeness of the match was a result of Italy's performance rather than the mass changes he made to his side.

"There were lots of changes and different combinations," said Gatland. "But Italy played very well. I think this was their best game of the tournament. I thought Sergio Parisse was outstanding and Italy defended well." Parisse, the Stade Francais back-rower, took heart from his side's fourth straight defeat. "We cannot be happy with the defeat but I am extremely satisfied with how the team played," he said.

* PA