Wales v Ireland, Six Nations Champiosnhip, March 21
O'Driscoll delighted by Grand Slam
March 21, 2009
The Ireland squad celebrate their Grand Slam success
Ireland ended a 61-year wait for a Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll could not hide his delight after his side claimed the Grand Slam with a 17-15 victory over Wales in their Six Nations clash in Cardiff.

O'Driscoll produced a man of the match performance including a crucial second half try to guide his side to only their second Championship clean sweep and their first in 61 years.

"It's a fantastic feeling and just reward for the hard work we've put in through a lot of years. We've had good times and not so good times, but this is a great time," he said. "We're just absolutely delighted that we've reached our goal. We wanted the big one and it's nice to say you're the one that has achieved the Grand Slam."

In a dramatic finale Wales fly-half Stephen Jones and his Irish counterpart Ronan O'Gara exchanged drop goals before Jones failed with one last long range penalty to win the game and spoil Ireland's party.

It sparked wild celebrations amid the green ranks inside the Millennium Stadium and desperate disappointment for the Welsh who were robbed of the title and finished fourth in the Championship table.

"We could have lost at the death so the shock factor set in for a few seconds and then over the next few minutes we enjoyed the elation with team-mates, ones you've put your body on the line for," added O'Driscoll. "That's the most important thing, to be able to look them in the face and know you've put your body on the line. That's pretty sweet."

O'Driscoll, who admitted he was praying Jones did not have the distance as the final kick was launched, revealed the threequarters had been motivated by a rousing speech from O'Gara on the morning of the match.

"Ronan speaks very passionately. He took the backs aside and had everybody's attention, 100% of everybody's concentration," he said. "Ronan has had some great highs but some lows too. He showed great strength of character to come back and knock that drop goal over. You wouldn't think he had a nerve in his body.

"We've never considered ourselves nearly men. The margins are so small. You need the occasional kick to drop two metres short and the odd refereeing decision. Overall we deserved it. Thankfully 10 years of luck came today. But we didn't panic when they knocked over that drop goal with four minutes to go. We were composed. For me scoring is an added bonus. I really couldn't care less who gets the tries."

Ireland coach Declan Kidney was almost overcome by the occasion after delivering the Grand Slam in his first season in charge. "It's fairly special. Boys did what they said they would do even though we could have got caught at the end. It's just brilliant, just unbelievable," he said.

"Unless you have a love for the game you don't win. They worked hard. They have been very honest and to be here myself is a privilege."

It was left to O'Driscoll to sum up Kidney's achievement. "He's put together a great team. He knows his strengths. It's no secret he's won a couple of European Cups and now a Grand Slam. He has an X-factor about him and you either have that or you don't."

Wales coach Warren Gatland declared Ireland worthy Grand Slam champions. "Ireland have won all their matches and learnt the way to win games. They pick and go a lot and kick intelligently. They kicked significantly more than we have today but have done it well.

"When they get opportunities they tend to take them and you must give them credit for doing that. They know how to grind out victory and grind out results. When they get in front they normally hang on and when they slip behind they know what to do. There's a lot of experience in that Ireland side and they were good enough to win the Grand Slam.

"You must be gracious in defeat and say well done to the Irish. It was a very tough Test match. I'm happy with the way we played in the first half when I felt we were pretty comfortable but those six minutes in the second half when they scored two tries put us under huge pressure. We showed great character to come back. We're disappointed but we have to get back on the horse. "We must put this disappointment behind us. We'll learn a lot from this."

Gatland admitted he had blundered in making a host of changes against Italy last weekend, a match Wales won 20-15. The outcome in Rome meant they headed into today's finale needing to win by a minimum of 13 points to retain their crown.

Instead the defeat meant they finished fourth in the championship table. The Kiwi said: "I'm capable of putting my hand up and saying the number of changes against Italy cost us in terms of points.

"This was a fantastic Test of high quality and drama and I believe the two best teams in this competition played today. I'm not concerned if we finished second or fourth because every competition you enter you want to win."

Skipper Ryan Jones had no complaints with namesake Stephen taking the last-gasp kick, even though Gavin Henson has greater range. "Steve wasn't a million miles away. He stepped up to the plate and said he fancied it. From the moment he struck it I thought it was going over.

"We were 80 seconds away from winning. The best two teams went at it today and there was a fine line between winning and losing. Ireland have shown composure and discipline and have ground out victories and that's the way you win the championship."

Ireland's Grand Slam heroes will be greeted by fans at a homecoming reception in Dublin tomorrow afternoon. The squad and management will head straight from Dublin Airport to the Mansion House on Dawson Street at 4.30pm where they will be presented to crowds on a specially-erected stage.


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