Ireland claimed back-to-back Guinness Six Nations titles by beating Scotland in Dublin.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five standout performers for Andy Farrell’s side during the championship.

Tadhg Beirne

Beirne capped a string of standout displays by celebrating title success on the occasion of his 50th Ireland cap. The influential workhorse, who formed an impressive second-row partnership with the emerging Joe McCarthy, reads the game superbly and is a menace in both attack and defence. He produced key lineout steals and also chipped in with crucial tries.

Bundee Aki

It is 10 years since New Zealand-born Aki joined Connacht and he has arguably never been more important to his adopted country. The colossal centre was outstanding at last year’s Rugby World Cup and continued that fine form during the championship. His forceful carrying skills were a key weapon for Ireland, punching holes in opposition defences, while he was lethal presence at the breakdown.

Caelan Doris

While try-scoring hooker Dan Sheehan and powerful prop Andrew Porter deserve honourable mentions, dynamic Doris once again excelled in a formidable forward pack. The 25-year-old has emerged as the successor to captain Peter O’Mahony after skippering his side against Italy. A tackling machine and fearsome carrier, he still has the potential to hit new heights and appears certain to join Farrell on next year’s British and Irish Lions tour.

James Lowe

Named official man of the match for the round three-win over Wales, Lowe consistently starred on the left flank and finished among the tournament’s top try scorers. The New Zealand-born wing brings a different dimension to Ireland’s attack. Offloads, line breaks and carries were just some of the areas where he has shone, while his trusty left boot remains a significant strength.

Jack Crowley

The talented 24-year-old began the tournament as a genuine Test rookie and ended it having admirably filled the void left by the retired Johnny Sexton. Crowley formed a fine half-back partnership with the equally-impressive Jamison Gibson-Park to steer his country to glory. A maiden senior try in the second-round victory over Italy was a major high, while his unwavering mental resilience came to the fore following a few kicking errors.

Ben Earl hit back at England’s critics after they produced their best display since the 2019 World Cup by dispatching Ireland 23-22 at Twickenham.

Marcus Smith’s match-winning drop goal in the last act of a spellbinding match denied Ireland the chance to complete back-to-back Grand Slams and ensured the Guinness Six Nations title will be decided on the final weekend.

England will be contesting the crown when they face France and they will head to Lyon lifted by an inspired afternoon against the current champions, a fortnight after they blundered their way to defeat by Scotland.

Steve Borthwick’s men were given little chance of beating Ireland – bookmakers rated them 4-1 underdogs – yet they delivered their most complete performance since the 2019 World Cup victory over New Zealand.

“Unbelievable really. I’m a bit emotional,” player of the match Earl said.

“Some of the crap that has been thrown at the team over this last week, apparently we are the worst England team ever. We have done pretty well for that accolade.

“We knew from the beginning of the game if we played our best stuff we would have a chance. Amazing stadium, amazing fans, amazing team-mates. Credit to the fans. What a great day.

“We train like that every day. We all know sometimes that doesn’t translate onto the pitch but people don’t see half the stuff we do. I’m just so pleased.”

England were headed for defeat when James Lowe crossed in the 72nd minute to nudge Ireland in front until a late do-or-die surge ended with Smith landing his decisive drop-goal.

Jamie George, the team’s captain who watched the nerve-jangling final moments from the sidelines, joked that the result was “never in doubt”.

“I don’t like watching but I was in awe of the boys on the field – the composure they showed but also going out there to attack the game and win the game,” George said.

“We didn’t panic at any stage and I have to admit it was a bit emotional at the end because of everything that’s gone on.

“I was just so proud of the players on the field. They applied themselves. It was never in doubt!”

Borthwick revealed that there are injury concerns over Chandler Cunningham-South and Henry Slade ahead of the final match against France and played down an exchange of words with Ireland boss Andy Farrell shortly before half-time.

“It’s between Andy and (me). I know people want to read things into that but Andy and I have a good relationship,” Borthwick said.

Andy Farrell is confident Ireland will quickly dust themselves down for another shot at Guinness Six Nations glory after their dream of successive Grand Slams was extinguished in heartbreaking fashion by England.

Farrell’s men were on the brink of retaining the championship title with a round to spare when Marcus Smith kicked a last-gasp drop goal to settle a captivating Twickenham encounter 23-22 in the hosts’ favour.

While back-to-back clean sweeps are now off the table, Ireland will still win the tournament if they defeat Scotland next weekend in Dublin.

“We said from the beginning that we’d like to be in with a chance of winning the competition on the last day and here we are,” said head coach Farrell.

“Look, the lads are realists, they’ll learn the lessons quickly.

“There’s not a problem at all about getting the lads back on track for next week.

“Six Nations (titles) are unbelievably difficult to come by. To win them you tend to have a lot of ups and downs.

“We were on the wrong side of that result but there will be absolutely no problem whatsoever getting back to work next week for what is a super important week for Irish rugby.

“You dust yourselves down. We’ve been very good at winning and moving on to the next one. We’ve got to be really good at losing as well.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves down tomorrow and make sure that we turn up with a smile on our face because we’ve got a championship to win next weekend.”

England were overwhelming underdogs ahead of Saturday evening’s showdown but emphatically answered their critics by producing the finest display of the Steve Borthwick era.

Yet James Lowe’s second try of the afternoon, which arrived in the 72nd minute and added to four Jack Crowley penalties, looked to have snatched victory for the visitors until Smith’s decisive intervention.

Farrell had no complaints about the result and was full of praise for the opposition, who crossed three times through Ollie Lawrence, George Furbank and Ben Earl to bounce back from a disappointing Calcutta Cup loss to Scotland in round three.

“Look at the quality of the players that they’ve got,” said Farrell.

“Certainly when you’re coming off the back of a defeat it tends to concentrate the mind a little bit – hopefully it does for us next week.

“We always prepare for every game for everyone to be at their best.

“I thought they were super tonight, I thought they were physical, they were challenging on the gain line and played a nice brand of rugby as well.

“To cut a long story short, I actually thought that England deserved to win.”

Ireland kept their quest for successive Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam titles on track by brushing aside spirited Wales with a dominant 31-7 victory in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men backed up crushing wins over France and Italy with a third consecutive bonus-point triumph to keep themselves in pole position for further championship glory.

First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe paved the way for the reigning champions to equal England’s tournament record of 11 wins in a row.

Wales avoided embarrassment at the Aviva Stadium and briefly threatened an improbable fightback thanks to a second-half spell which brought a penalty try and a yellow card for Tadhg Beirne.

But a first Test try for stand-in Ireland full-back Ciaran Frawley broke their resolve before Beirne atoned for his earlier error by securing the bonus point at the death on an afternoon when flawless fly-half Jack Crowley kicked 11 points.

Ireland’s ominous march towards another clean sweep continues next month against England and Scotland, while winless Wales host France in round four ahead of a possible wooden spoon shoot-out with Italy.

A largely inexperienced Wales team crossed the Irish Sea as overwhelming underdogs on the back of narrow defeats to the Scots and Steve Borthwick’s side.

Visiting head coach Warren Gatland insisted he travelled with belief rather than hope and urged his players to make “everything uncomfortable” for the fancied hosts.

Wales’ bid to disrupt began with some colossal defending as the home team’s early dominance was initially rewarded only by a long-range Crowley penalty.

Yet Ireland’s well-oiled machine persisted with wave after wave of attack to break down the staunch resistance and take control of the scoreboard.

Hooker Sheehan powered over at the end of a line-out maul in the 21st minute to claim his fourth try of the tournament before Calvin Nash later teed up Lowe to touch down in the left corner.

Wales finally enjoyed some forays into Ireland’s 22 just before the break.

But Sam Costelow’s decision to kick a penalty to the corner failed to pay off, while a couple of costly fumbles ensured they went into half-time scoreless for a third match on the bounce, at 17-0 down.

Any potential fears Wales had of joining Italy in being nilled in Dublin were extinguished within three minutes of the restart as Tomos Williams’ quick tap penalty led to a momentum shift.

Italian referee Andrea Piardi awarded a penalty try at the end of a lengthy review of a collapsed maul on Ireland’s line, with Beirne sent to the sin bin for illegally changing his bind.

Fired-up Wales were well and truly in the ascendancy at that stage but failed to make further inroads on the scoreboard in Beirne’s absence before Ireland restored order.

After the bulldozing Bundee Aki was denied a try on review for Robbie Henshaw’s knock on, Frawley, deputising for the injured Hugo Keenan, gleefully dived under the posts to celebrate his first Test start in style.

Wales came close to a consolation score in the closing minutes, during which Ireland replacement James Ryan was sent to the sin bin.

Yet, with Beirne’s late finish compounding their misery, they ultimately slipped to a 10th defeat from their last 11 Six Nations fixtures as their wait for a first championship win in Dublin since 2012 goes on.

Ireland fly-half Jack Crowley is taking the challenge of filling Johnny Sexton’s shoes in his stride and “could go far”, according to team-mate James Lowe.

Test rookie Crowley marked his maiden Guinness Six Nations appearance in Dublin with the first senior try of his career to set the defending champions on course for a crushing 36-0 win over Italy.

The 24-year-old, who has never touched down in 45 provincial outings for Munster, was elevated to first-choice number 10 after long-serving talisman Sexton retired following the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Leinster wing Lowe also starred on Sunday afternoon – claiming the fifth of Ireland’s six tries before being named man of the match – and has been impressed with Crowley’s early impact.

“He’s got a lot of pressure on him, there have been some world-class 10s come before him,” he said.

“He’s taken it in his stride, bossing it around week to week.

“He hasn’t quite got that Sexton aura about him. He hasn’t got the stare down yet. He’s awesome, he growing into it.

“He slotted into 15 (after full-back Hugo Keenan was injured) as well, fair play to him, he’s a young man with a good head on his shoulders and he could go far.”

Crowley, who has 11 caps, made his full championship debut in Ireland’s statement 38-17 round-one win in France.

For the second successive week, he shrugged off some nervy kicks to produce an assured performance.

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey – one of six players brought into Andy Farrell’s starting XV following success in Marseille – echoed Lowe’s praise of Crowley.

“He’s good, isn’t he? He’s went really well the last couple of games,” said McCloskey.

“He’s obviously still learning, he’s a young guy but some of his touches, the way he takes the ball to the line, the way he offloads is something slightly different to what Johnny brought – not that Johnny wasn’t incredible, but it’s a slightly different way of playing.

“Obviously he’s had a couple of mistakes in there and bits and pieces to work on, but you’re going to get that with someone who is 24 years old.

“I thought he was very good and very good last week as well.”

Dan Sheehan’s double and further scores from Jack Conan and Calvin Nash ensured Ireland go into a fallow weekend at the top of the table with maximum points.

Farrell’s side host Wales on February 24 before taking on England and Scotland next month.

“We’d a fair few changes this week and boys who came into the group really put their hands up and showed why they are internationals,” added Lowe.

“We are happy with where we are sitting, it’s a pretty good position to be in.”

Conor Murray believes New Zealand’s loss is Ireland’s gain as “world-class” trio Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe bid to give their native country serious cause for regret.

Centre Aki, scrum-half Gibson-Park and wing Lowe will face the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup for the first time after being selected to start Saturday’s quarter-final showdown in Paris.

The three New Zealand-born backs qualified for Ireland on residency grounds and have become key performers for Andy Farrell’s side, including helping secure a landmark tour success over the Kiwis last summer.

Murray expects their personal circumstances to provide an extra edge to their performances at Stade de France.

“Those three boys are so important to our squad,” he said.

“What they did, taking the chance to come over here and start a new life for themselves and prove themselves, all three of them have really done so.

“They’re three world-class players who we’re really going to rely on heavily and have performed unbelievably well in this competition.

“It hasn’t really been mentioned, the New Zealand thing. They’re part of our Irish team now and they’re really important to us.

“I’m sure there’s a part of them, that little bit extra that they want to get one over on their place of birth but they’re fully part of our Irish squad now.”

Gibson-Park and Lowe each represented the Maori All Blacks prior to their respective moves to Leinster, before winning maiden Ireland caps in 2020.

Connacht player Aki made his Ireland debut in 2017 but missed Ireland’s last-eight World Cup loss to New Zealand in 2019 through suspension.


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The 33-year-old, who four years ago was sent off against Samoa – his parents’ native country, has been one of the standout performers in France.

“I hate saying it but he’s been playing the rugby of his life,” Murray, who lost his starting role to Gibson-Park, said of Aki.

“He can come across as a bit of a messer or jolly fella but behind the scenes Bundee is incredible.

“The level of detail, he’s always on the computers and always trying to figure things out, so he’s actually a smart fella, believe it or not.”

Ireland’s tens of thousands of travelling fans celebrated each of their Pool B wins with rousing renditions of ‘Zombie’ by Irish band The Cranberries.

“Bundee thinks they’re singing ‘Bundee, Bundee’,” Murray added. “They’re definitely not!”

Munster number nine Murray has 111 Ireland caps, is a veteran of three British and Irish Lions tours and is playing at his fourth World Cup.

The 34-year-old, who will begin on the bench against the All Blacks, is preparing for the biggest game of his career as his country strive to reach a maiden semi-final.


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“It would mean everything,” he said. “On the outside it’s obviously a talking point that we’ve never got there and within the group we think this is a different team and the capabilities are different.

“This weekend is the biggest game I’ve ever played and it’s the same for everyone in the group.

“To get through that would be a huge, huge moment; a huge milestone.

“Breaking the quarter-final isn’t something we talk about. But with the special group we have, it’s something we’re chasing and would absolutely love to do for ourselves and the fans here and at home.

“I can’t get away from how hard it’s going to be, how difficult a task it is, but it would mean the world to all of us to get to that next stage.”

Murray has lined up 14 times against New Zealand for Ireland and the Lions.

He has scored four tries across those outings, including in his nation’s maiden success over the All Blacks in 2016 in Chicago.

“I’ve played against the All Blacks where we’ve beaten them, but when we play (again) they’re a completely different animal,” he said.

“When I started off my international career playing against New Zealand was really daunting and it still is, but did we really expect to beat them is questionable, whereas now there’s definitely a bit more belief.”

Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan is delighted to have “X-factor” wings Mack Hansen and James Lowe fit and ready to join him for a blockbuster World Cup quarter-final with the All Blacks.

Hansen appeared to be a major doubt for Saturday’s Stade de France clash after sitting out training on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a calf problem sustained in last weekend’s 36-14 win over Scotland.

Lowe has also overcome injury – an eye issue suffered against the Scots – to retain his starting role for the crunch meeting with his native New Zealand.


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Ireland ended their final Pool B fixture in unfamiliar fashion with a scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park on the left flank and centre Garry Ringrose on the right.


Head coach Andy Farrell has been able to name an unchanged starting XV for a titanic last-eight encounter, including a first-choice backline.

“Its brilliant,” said Keenan. “We finished the game with an interesting back three.

“Jamo did a brilliant job, didn’t he? He is such a creative player, so exciting, so he slotted in well on the wing.

“To have the two lads back again brings a bit of X-factor to the back three. I always enjoy playing with them so great news.”

Hansen on Tuesday watched from the stands at Ireland’s training base of Stade des Fauvettes in the northern outskirts of Paris and was again absent on Wednesday, while Lowe took part in both sessions.

Veteran Keith Earls was thought to be pushing for a first appearance since the opening weekend of the tournament before Farrell sprung a surprise with his team announcement.

Referring to Australia-born Hansen, the coach said: “Everyone is very confident that he’s going to be fine for the game.”

Ireland propelled themselves to the top of the world rankings courtesy of last summer’s landmark 2-1 tour success in New Zealand, in addition to launching their current run of 17 consecutive victories.

Farrell’s in-form side have enjoyed a growing rivalry with the All Blacks, winning three of four meetings during his tenure and four of six overall.

“We haven’t played them for over a year now,” said Keenan. “They will have improved massively.

“They will have taken the learnings from those games and they’ll come out gunning for us as well.”


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Lock Tadhg Beirne, who started all three Tests against New Zealand in 2022, feels there is a healthy respect between the two nations.

“Rugby is one of those games where, when you go on to the field, you go to beat the crap out of each other for 80 minutes and when you step off it, you’re very happy to grab a beer with your opposition number and enjoy the moments afterwards,” he said. “It’s no different with New Zealand.

“One thing I will remember from New Zealand is after the last Test, we had beaten them and we ran out of beer pretty quickly.

“The New Zealand squad were pretty quick to bring in their beer and leave us celebrating. That’s respect too, off-field respect.

“It will be no different on Saturday, we’re both going to go at it for 80 minutes and we’ll be very happy to walk in and have a beer in the changing room with them, for sure.”

Injured Ireland wings Mack Hansen and James Lowe are “making good strides” ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand, while James Ryan is seeing a specialist on a wrist issue.

As of Monday morning, no member of Andy Farrell’s 33-man squad had been ruled out of the clash with the All Blacks in Paris.

Ryan’s situation is expected to be come clearer in the next 24 hours, with Ireland hopeful the problem is not as bad as first feared.

Wing Keith Earls and centre Robbie Henshaw could be available to feature at Stade de France after missing out against Scotland on Saturday with hamstring injuries.

Team manager Mick Kearney said: “James Ryan is seeing a specialist and we’re hoping for better news than originally anticipated.

“Mack Hansen took a bang to his calf but is improving and both him and James Lowe are making good strides.

“Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw are both in contention as they progress during the week and apart from that just some usual bumps and bruises after a physical Test match.”

Ireland secured their last-eight spot in emphatic fashion by topping Pool B thanks to a crushing 36-14 win over the eliminated Scots.

But that victory came at a cost as Hansen was forced off after returning from a head injury assessment before opening try scorer Lowe departed at half-time due to a bang in the eye.

Lock Ryan, who injured his other wrist in the 13-8 success over South Africa on September 23, then added to the list of concerns for head coach Farrell.

“We won’t have a definitive on James (Ryan) until after he sees the specialist but certainly there is more optimism around James than probably what was originally anticipated,” added Kearney.

“Within the next 24 hours we should have a clearer picture of where James is at.

“At this stage, no one ruled out for the match against New Zealand.”

James Lowe insisted in-form Ireland are far from “invincible” as he dismissed the notion complacency could derail their Rugby World Cup dream.

Andy Farrell’s side have swept all before them during a 15-month stay at the top of the Test rankings which has brought 16 consecutive victories.

Ireland are on the cusp of the quarter-finals in France but could still be on an early flight home as they prepare to put their impressive winning streak on the line in Saturday evening’s pivotal Pool B finale against rivals Scotland.

The Six Nations Grand Slam champions must prevent defeat by eight points or more in Paris to secure a knockout spot, otherwise their fate will be reliant on bonus points or head-to-head results.

Leinster wing Lowe, who has already helped Ireland overcome Romania, Tonga and South Africa, is taking nothing for granted.

“Obviously it does give us confidence in what we’ve done over the last three to four years in terms of what we’ve built,” said the 31-year-old.

“We know what works but even in wins there’s still things to learn. Invincible? I wouldn’t go anywhere near that word. Complacency is something that can’t creep into this group as well and it doesn’t.

“We understand the serious threats and we’ve respected every opposition that we’ve played so far in this competition. We’re just as diligent with Scotland as we were with South Africa, Romania, and Tonga.”

Farrell’s men are essentially playing knockout rugby as they bid to confirm a likely last-eight clash with New Zealand.

Ireland have won the last eight meetings with Scotland and not lost to them by at least eight points since a 31-21 warm-up defeat before the last World Cup to be staged in France, way back in 2007.

“Look, Scotland are an amazing team who have definitely pushed us,” said New Zealand-born Lowe.

“I know we’ve probably had the better end of the stick in the last few encounters.

“They’re a team that play with a lot of passion, width and physicality. You respect them because you really, really don’t want to lose. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The build-up to the crunch clash has come amid a bedbug outbreak across Paris and other French cities.

Ireland have so far been unaffected, with scrum coach John Fogarty joking that certain members of the squad have a built-in repellent.

“Some of the lads fumigate their beds naturally, so there’s no issue,” he said. “Some of the front five, it’s not a problem!

“(I) haven’t come across one (bedbug) really. We have been so lucky with where we’ve stayed and how well we have been looked after here in France. I haven’t heard of any issues so far.”

Ireland had their captain’s run at Stade de France on Friday morning.

Injured centre Robbie Henshaw, who is expected to be sidelined until at least the semi-final stage due to a hamstring issue, was involved, albeit he was restricted to light jogging away from the other 32 players.

“He’s good, as you saw, he’s out running so he’ll be assessed as we go along and we’ll see after the weekend how he pitches up next week,” said Fogarty.

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