We’ve beaten the best in the Six Nations — now it’s time to be world beaters.
With the World Cup on the horizon, Ireland’s victorious Grand Slam team are setting their sights on higher summits.
Wing wizard Jacob Stockdale said Ireland cannot wait to host the world’s number one side — the All Blacks — in Dublin this November, and pit themselves against the best.
“We’ve won a Grand Slam, and that’s the first stepping stone to being a dominant team in world rugby,” he said. “We’re number two in the world, and we’re excited to have a crack at New Zealand. We’re in a really good place right now but there’s still a lot to work on.
“We can look forward to next year’s Six Nations and then the World Cup.”
Not even the Son of the Beast could dampen the team’s celebrations after they returned home with the silverware, although the homecoming planned at the Aviva Stadium had to be cancelled due to the unseasonable snow.
Joe Schmidt’s history- makers were due to party in front of thousands of fans at the Aviva, but were forced to put the festivities on ice.
“On behalf of the squad, we are incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get the opportunity to say thank-you to those people who supported us,” Schmidt told RTÉ.
“I think there were about 30,000 tickets downloaded for the homecoming. It is unfortunate that with health and safety and the roads that we have been forced to cancel it.
“We have had unbelievable support and it makes a difference.”
One fan who wasn’t left disappointed was Jennifer Malone, who went home with Peter O’Mahony’s championship medal.
Super supporter Jennifer, who is a regular at the Irish squad’s training sessions, was presented with the medal after she met up with the Munster captain after Ireland overwhelmed England 24-15 at Twickenham, to sweep to just their third Grand Slam in history.
“Yes, my sister got to lift the Six Nations trophy today in Twickenham and got Peter O’Mahony’s medal and yes I am extremely jealous,” Jennifer’s sister Rachel posted on Twitter.
The 28-year-old back-rower is often seen chatting to Jennifer Malone and posing for pictures with her at Ireland’s Carton House training base.
The team decamped to the Shelbourne Hotel after arriving home, to great fanfare from waiting fans.
Everything turns out Grand in the end for victorious Ireland
Ireland’s victorious Grand Slam rugby team have overcome significant opposition in the past couple of months - so a small bit of snow wasn’t going to come between them and their celebrations.
A planned homecoming at the Aviva Stadium was postponed due to the adverse weather conditions, but the champagne was not kept on ice as the team eventually arrived in the Shelbourne Hotel to toast the third clean sweep of the tournament in Ireland’s history.
Captain Rory Best told the waiting press pack at the hotel that the reception and support afforded to the team has been appreciated.
“The amount of support we’ve been given, both obviously in Twickenham and then coming home here, is incredible.
“Obviously it was disappointing we couldn’t do the homecoming [in the Aviva] because of the weather, but I think we know how special this is to everybody in Ireland and we feel every bit of that,” said Best.
Teammate Rob Kearney said yesterday’s celebrations topped the scenes in Twickenham following the final whistle.
“It was probably a little bit subdued, we were probably on a bit of a comedown after all the adrenaline, but today is really brilliant,” said Kearney.
And Kearney became the talk of social media last night following an unfortunate gaffe by Sports Minister Shane Ross.
Posing for a photo in the Shelbourne with Kearney and Jonny Sexton, Mr Ross seemed to confuse the former with his brother when tweeting the picture.
“Congratulations and welcome home this evening to superstars Jonny Sexton and Dave Kearney,” he posted to Twitter.
Kearney, however, saw the funny side.
“You’re welcome Leo,” he replied.
You’re welcome Leo 😉— Rob Kearney (@KearneyRob) March 18, 2018
Speaking of the Taoiseach, both he and President Michael D Higgins also extended their congratulations to Joe Schmidt’s team.
President Higgins described the win as a “fantastic achievement and source of encouragement, not only for the team and their coaches, but for all of us who enjoy and support Irish sport”.
“This historic achievement — winning an Caithréim Mhór — is the greatest prize in European rugby and a much-deserved accolade for this talented Irish team, which has shown exemplary determination and cohesion throughout this Six Nations campaign,” said President Higgins.
“Saturday’s performance and the tremendous team effort throughout the tournament have ensured this superb Irish team have secured a place in sporting history and will be remembered for generations to come.
“Their example of what is possible when talent, skill, commitment and hard work combined with creativity and flair will inspire countless young people to take up sport and seek to challenge themselves.”
Mr Varadkar said that the victory was all the more special given the Grand Slam was secured on St Patrick’s Day.
“They showed great skill and determination, not only in tough conditions, but throughout the whole tournament to become champions” said Mr Varadkar. “They have set an impressive example of what can be achieved in sport through focus, hard work and an unbreakable team resolve,.
“Their will to win for each other has been particularly prevalent throughout the tournament. I wish to also congratulate the coaching staff, the wider backroom team and the players’ families and friends who have supported and encouraged the team on their special journey.”
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