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Ireland hold on to Six Nations trophy after Wales boss Gatland offers to quit

By AFP

March 17, 2024 09:25 AM


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Ireland retained their Six Nations title with a hard-fought 17-13 win over Scotland after Warren Gatland offered to quit as Wales boss following a home defeat by Italy that condemned his side to a tournament whitewash.

France finished in second place after edging England 33-31 in a thrilling final match on "Super Saturday".

Irish hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams had been dashed by last week's dramatic 23-22 loss to England at Twickenham.

But Ireland knew that if they avoided defeat, or secured two bonus points, against a Scotland side fresh from a 31-29 defeat by Italy in Rome, they would keep hold of the title.

Scotland were bidding for their first Triple Crown -- when one of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales beats each of those other teams in a single championship season -- since 1990.

And the Scots produced a mammoth defensive effort in Dublin that threatened to frustrate Ireland.

- 'War of attrition' -

Tries by Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter eventually proved enough for Ireland, although Scotland centre Huw Jones crossed late on to set up a tense finish.

"It was a war of attrition," said Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

"I am delighted for the lads as back-to-back titles is very difficult to achieve," the former England international added.

Scotland boss Gregor Townsend praised his side despite a tenth successive defeat by Ireland, saying: "I feel really proud of the players. All 23 -- the effort they put in today, in one of the toughest environments to play in."

Earlier, Wales finished bottom of the Six Nations for the first time since 2003 -- when they also lost all five matches -- after a 24-21 defeat by Italy in Cardiff.

It was a sad way for centre George North, who went off injured late on, to bow out from Test rugby as he joined a list of senior Wales players who have retired from international duty either side of last year's World Cup in France.

Saturday's loss led Gatland, in his second spell as Wales boss, to offer his resignation to Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Abi Tierney, even though the 60-year-old New Zealander is contracted until the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

Asked if he wanted to see out his current deal, Gatland, whose first spell as Wales boss yielded four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and two World Cup semi-finals, added: "Yes, absolutely. I've made that commitment.

"I just said to Abi in the changing room, 'If you want me to resign, I'm quite happy to do that'. She said, 'Like hell, that's the last thing I want, that's what I'm really afraid of'."

- Careful review -

Gatland added: "But I can promise you we'll go away and review this really carefully."

Italy, however deserved their win after scoring fine tries through Monty Ioane and Lorenzo Pani to lead 18-0 until the 65th minute, before a late Wales rally flattered the hosts.

Victory meant Italy had their best Six Nations season return of two wins and a draw as they avoided a ninth straight tournament 'wooden spoon'.

"We needed to be stronger and have that belief and pride in the Italian jersey, which has always been there, and we needed to be organised better," said Italy coach Gonzalo Quesada.

Ireland's win over Scotland left England, third at the World Cup and France, beaten in the quarter-finals of the global showpiece on home soil, vying for second place.

England outscored France four tries to three in a see-saw encounter in Lyon.

But after denying Ireland thanks to Marcus Smith's last-ditch drop-goal, the tables were turned on England.

Having been edged out 16-15 in a World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa, coach Steve Borthwick's men suffered fresh agony on French soil when Thomas Ramos landed a 79th-minute penalty to complete a match haul of 18 points.

England, however, ended the tournament with three wins and two defeats after three successive Six Nations featuring just two victories apiece.

"I am proud, but disappointed we didn't get the win," said Borthwick. "We have shown in the last two weeks we are competing with the top four teams again."

France skipper Gregory Alldritt voiced his relief by saying: "I am really happy because England played a great game... We have got a team full of character and we want to get back to the top of the rankings."


AFP


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