The promise of what lies ahead is the gift that puts this Irish Grand Slam above the other three

This is Ireland’s first Grand Slam win coinciding with a World Cup also taking place in the same year

Possibly the most consequential aspect of Ireland clinching the Six Nations Championship Grand Slam over the weekend is that of the four Ireland has won in 1948, 2009, 2018 and 2023, it is the only one that has come in a World Cup year.

While there was no World Cup competition in 1948 and back then it was played as a Five Nations Championship, there was a World Cup event every four years from 1987, when New Zealand won the first edition in Auckland.

From that World Cup onwards just England have won the competition from the teams that compete in the Six Nations Championship and did so having won the Grand Slam earlier that year in Dublin in 2003.

All four of Ireland’s wins have been in different grounds, the first of which boiled down to a visit by Wales to Belfast for the final game.


Ravenhill was packed to its 30,000 capacity and the teams were 3-3 at the interval after Barney Mullan had scored a try for Ireland and Bleddyn Williams one for Wales. As captain Karl Mullen said in later years: “JC Daly got a try for us in the second half and, after that, we played like men possessed, determined not to give anything away.”

No Ireland side had previously performed the Grand Slam and it would take 61 years for it to happen again. Let’s face it the 1990s were grim but the millennium sparked change as Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell came on to the scene.

Declan Kidney managed to change mindsets and Ireland began the 2009 championship with a win over France, whacked Italy and squeezed by England. They then beat Scotland away and again it was Wales in Cardiff.

The final game was tense and Ireland overturned a half-time deficit with two tries from O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe. But by the 76th minute outhalf Stephen Jones had given Wales the lead. O’Gara then dropped a goal to put Ireland ahead with Jones attempting a last-gasp chance with a long-range kick that missed.

While that series was won at the end, in 2018 under Joe Schmidt, another Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton arguably won the Grand Slam at the beginning.

The final game of the series in Twickenham showed the team’s all-round ability. But in Paris on a wet day in the opening clash Ireland found themselves 13-12 down with the clock in the red.

Thereafter one of the most remarkable passages of play ensued as Ireland took the ball through 41 phases and into French territory. But the French defence was strong and Irish players were still a significant distance from the posts.

Sexton stepped up. Not unusual for him, he decided to take responsibility and swung his boot sweetly as all watched his long range drop-goal sailing between the uprights. Irish delirium signalled something was up.

Just which Irish Grand Slam is the better is like asking if Matt Busby’s European Cup winning Manchester United team was better than that of Alex Ferguson.

Maybe, just maybe 2023 will be more consequential than the other wins. Certainly the 1948 one was in isolation with decades until the 2009 win, which confirmed a new era of greater confidence.

But this year, not because it is Sexton’s last, but because with a World Cup in September winning the Grand Slam indicates that maybe the timing is good and the stars are aligning for Ireland to go beyond a quarter-final for the first time.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times