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Five key players for Ireland in their Grand Slam-winning campaign

Ireland won their third Grand Slam in this year’s NatWest 6 Nations.

Five key players for Ireland in their Grand Slam-winning campaign

Ireland sealed just their third-ever NatWest 6 Nations Grand Slam with a 24-15 win over England at Twickenham.

Here, the Press Association looks at five men who were key to that triumph.

Jacob Stockdale

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Jacob Stockdale, pictured, has broken the Six Nations scoring record for a single campaign (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Ulster youngster Stockdale now boasts 11 tries in nine Tests, and bagged a Six Nations-era record of seven scores in a single championship. By any measure, that return remains remarkable. The Lisburn native has established himself as a fixture in Joe Schmidt’s first-choice XV almost as soon as he has broken into it. His ability to mix power running with unerring finishing has proved invaluable to Ireland’s title march, as has his uncanny aptitude for the interception.

Conor Murray

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Conor Murray, pictured, toasts Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph and third Six Nations title win in five years (Paul Harding/PA)

Munster and British and Irish Lions star Murray has only the All Blacks’ Aaron Smith as any credible challenge to the title of the world’s greatest scrum-half. The 28-year-old boasts the kind of all-court game most sides across the globe would crave from a half-back general. His ability to kick with unerring accuracy, snipe around the fringes with power and pace, and also pop up in midfield and direct play like a fly-half, remains almost unrivalled. That new-found propensity to drift through the 10 and 12 channels and act as an auxiliary ball player to boost Johnny Sexton’s craft has elevated him even higher in the scrum-half pantheon.

Johnny Sexton

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Johnny Sexton, pictured, piloted Ireland’s Grand Slam charge from fly-half (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Lions fly-half’s nerves of steel shone through when he dropped that 45-metre goal in the third minute of overtime to snatch a 15-13 victory over France in Paris on the opening weekend. Without that Herculean rally, Ireland would simply not have been in this place.

Rob Kearney

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Rob Kearney, pictured, is just one of two men to have won two Grand Slams with Ireland (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Less than two years ago, full-back Kearney’s entire Test career hung totally in the balance. Schmidt sat the British and Irish Lions star down and told him he had to have a big game against New Zealand in Chicago. The Leinster stalwart conjured a return to form and has not looked back since. A stellar showing against Scotland as Ireland secured the title 28-8 was then backed up with another rock-solid effort in the Grand Slam sealing England win. Now just Kearney and Rory Best stand above all others as Ireland’s only two men to have won two Grand Slams.

James Ryan

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
James Ryan, left, with the Triple Crown trophy (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Young lock Ryan has spent the last 18 months battling niggling injuries, but has suddenly broken free – and into Ireland’s starting ranks. The 21-year-old is not just a physical specimen of some repute, he also has a fine analytical mind. Leinster star Ryan stepped up in the absence of more senior men, and has glued Ireland’s pack together at times.

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