They did it. Five games played, five games won, four with bonus points. Seven points clear at the top of the table when all is said and won. Ireland are Grand Slam champions for the fourth time and every inch of it had to be wrestled for. This is how they did, as seen through the lenses of the sports photographers who followed them all the way.
Wales 10 Ireland 34
James The First: James Ryan ended the tournament as the second-last man up on the podium, collecting the Triple Crown trophy as Ireland vice-captain. He was immense throughout, starting in the Wales game in Cardiff where he had a try on the board inside the first 10 minutes. Jac Morgan and Justin Tipuric held him up here, by hook and by crook. Photograph by Michael Steele of Getty Images.
Lowe And Go: For the second Six Nations in a row, James Lowe finished the tournament as the leading Irish try-scorer (jointly, this time, along with Mack Hansen). He started off with this effort in Cardiff, sprinting from his own 22 after nabbing an intercept to sucker punch Wales. It put Ireland 27-3 ahead after 20 minutes and Grand Slam bandwagon was starting to roll. Photograph by Stu Forster of Getty Images.
Ireland 32 France 19
Hugo Crazy: In the middle of a roiling, frenzied opening to the France game, Ireland had the coolness of mind to pull off a training-ground move from a French dropout. Everyone knew their role and played it to a tee, finishing with Hugo Keenan barrelling on to Finlay Bealham’s inside pass and confusing the French cover for just the split second he needed to careen over the line. Lansdowne went into orbit. Photograph by David Rogers of Getty Images.
Corner Boy: This was the best 20 minutes of the Six Nations, hands-down, no questions. Damien Penaud had just struck back for France with a mesmeric length-of-the-field try to now Ireland were coming again. Lowe probably didn’t need to do the full Greg Louganis on it – and if the try had been disallowed as it probably should have – there might have been some blowback. But it wasn’t and he didn’t and the best half of rugby in years still had 20 minutes to go. Bliss. Photograph by Brian Lawless of PA.
Italy 20 Ireland 34
Access Denied: On to Rome for the third match and Ireland were in no mood to worry about banana skins. James Ryan got things started with his second try of the championship after two minutes. By half-time, they had four on the board and bonus point secured. It was the rare game where Lowe didn’t get on the scoresheet, only just foiled while going for the corner here. Photograph by Dan Sheridan of Inpho.
At Last: Five years after making his Ireland debut, this was the Six Nations where Ross Byrne finally established himself as Johnny Sexton’s number two. An overnight success, at the age of 27. Craig Casey started alongside him, one of three different half-back combinations Ireland started across the five games. In a World Cup year, depth is everything. Photograph by Dan Sheridan of Inpho.
Scotland 7 Ireland 22
Mack The Knife: This was the one that had everyone a little on edge. Scotland are a coming side, everyone can see it. And in the first 23 minutes in Murrayfield, Ireland lost three of their starting pack. If ever there was a time when the Grand Slam was vulnerable, this was surely it. But Ireland went through their phases and when Hugo Keenan spun a long pass out to the wing, Mack Hansen dove low for an impossible finish. Photograph by Billy Stickland of Inpho.
Jack Flash: Jack Conan hadn’t bargained on being involved so early at Murrayfield but he came off the bench for Caelan Doris after just 12 minutes. Replacing Ireland’s player of the tournament? Not a bother on him. Conan showed the form that made him a Lion and his was the killer blow on the hour mark, running on to a beautifully-delayed Hansen pass to beat Duhan van der Merwe in the corner. Photograph by James Crombie of Inpho.
Ireland 29 England 16
Dan The Man: England hadn’t read the script. They came to Dublin pawing at the dirt, ready to spoil the Irish party. They even went 6-0 up and deserved every bit of it. Ireland were jittery and inaccurate, by contrast. They looked cowed by the occasion. But then, Dan Sheehan peeled off the back of a lineout and ran on to Josh van der Flier’s reverse pass and all was right with the world. Ireland were never behind again. Photograph by Billy Stickland of Inpho.
Thanks, Johnny: In his last ever Six Nations game, Johnny Sexton kicked four from four, became the all-time leading points scorer in the Six Nations and sealed the Grand Slam. The crowd waited for him to finish his celebrations and cheered him down the tunnel. An Irish sporting hero getting his due. Photograph by Donall Farmer of PA.