The Irish have only beaten every team in the competition once in their history — in 1948, when Brian O’Driscoll’s father was a baby — but the potential is clearly present for the record books to be rewritten.
With England losing a second game, this time by 18-17 to France at Twickenham, the 2003 World champions are effectively out of the running, and with the French struggling to find their best form, Ireland’s hopes are rising by the day.
Much will be revealed a week from Sunday at Lansdowne Road when England come to town, a game followed a fortnight later by France’s visit to Dublin. Meanwhile, O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, who both missed the crushing victory over the Scots through injury, are expected to be fit to take on the English
Wales’ 38-8 victory over the Italians in Rome means that they along with Ireland are now the only two unbeaten teams in the championship. The countries meet in the very last game in Cardiff on March 19 and it’s just possible that both could be going for the Grand Slam.
If such contemplation is premature, and probably ruinous to Ireland’s chances of a glorious season, none of the praise following the demolition of the hapless Scots is inappropriate. There was opening period of 20 minutes during which the home team had the upper hand and during which the Irish were under severe pressure, but the remaining hour of the game was effectively a demonstration by O’Sullivan’s men.
With the forwards cuffing the Scots about the ears, and with Ronan O’Gara showing the customary form that had deserted him in Rome, the Irish piled on five tries with an irresistible combination of brain and brawn. Malcolm O’Kelly, who became the country’s most capped player of all time on his 70th appearance, plowed through for the first score before the outstanding Paul O’Connell charged over for a second.
There followed a rapier-like thrust from Denis Hickie, whose 25th international try equaled O’Driscoll’s record, another bullocking effort from John Hayes, and then it was left to substitute Gavin Duffy to run in a final celebratory try in the last minute. It was just as comprehensive as the scoreboard indicated.
With the forwards giving the Scots a lesson, it was if Ireland quickly figured out where the opposition’s frail lay. It wasn’t a game plan dictated by the absence of the team’s best strike runners in O’Driscoll and D’Arcy; it was a more a response to the wet underfoot conditions and to Scotland’s soft underbelly.
“It hasn’t been the prettiest two weeks of rugby, but I’d rather have two wins under my belt and be ugly than a loss or two and look very pretty,” O’Sullivan said. “With O’Driscoll absent, O’Connell took over the captaincy and appeared to relish the responsibility.
“Paul showed great leadership when things weren’t exactly going to plan. He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and scoring a try himself was great for the team. It was probably the psychological turning point. He did a great job as captain both tactically and by leading from the front which is always a hard thing to do.”
The Irish had trailed by 8-0 after 12 minutes, but unlike in Rome when there were too many unforced errors, no one panicked this time.
“The Scottish try was our own fault, but we knew we wanted to make a statement and it was a question of tightening everything up,” Kelly said. “Once we got moving we were hard to stop and I think we made it really tough for the Scots.”
It’s now up to Ireland to make it equally tough for England, France and Wales.