Peter Jackson: Tries the utmost in a blistering 2018 Championship

Jonny May’s corner touchdown at Twickenham hardly seemed to matter in the greater scheme of things, succeeding only in delaying Ireland’s Grand Slam coronation by the time it took England to miss the conversion.

Jonny May’s corner touchdown at Twickenham hardly seemed to matter in the greater scheme of things, succeeding only in delaying Ireland’s Grand Slam coronation by the time it took England to miss the conversion.

The try made not a jot of difference to the NatWest 6 Nations’ champions taking the title by a staggering eleven points.

Click here for the final 2018 NatWest 6 Nations table

Nor could it rescue the hosts from finishing fifth by finding a losing bonus point amidst the debris of three straight defeats, a fleeting prospect that vanished as soon as Owen Farrell launched his touchline attempt on a trajectory outside the near upright.

And yet May’s try deserves to be acknowledged for its significance in the bigger picture, difficult to find given Ireland’s achievement in turning the race into a procession for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth places.

As the 76th of the tournament it ensured that this Six Nations generated more tries than any other over the previous 19 seasons.

The inaugural championship of 2000 set the bar at the dizzy height of 75, an average of exactly five per match reproduced try-for-try the following season.

By 2008 the number had fallen by 50 per cent to 50 and four years later it had slumped to 46, an average of three per match.   In 2013 the collective total hit an all-time low of 37, not much more than two per match. Five years later it has more than doubled, Gael Fickou’s stylish try for France in Cardiff raising the record to 78.

Five years have come and gone since the last try-less match in the championship: Ireland 6, England 12 at the Aviva Stadium in February 2013 when Farrell outpointed Ronan O’Gara 4-2 on penalties.

Over the last seven weeks there were only two instances of teams firing a blank in the try department – Wales at Twickenham and, ironically, Ireland in Paris on the opening weekend.   Their recovery can be gauged by the fact that they have won the NatWest 6 Nations’ Grand Slam with an unprecedented total of 20 tries, two more than the record set by Martin Johnson’s England at Lansdowne Road in 2003, a few months before they won the World Cup.   In terms of tries scored, Ireland’s is the most decorated of all Six Nations’ Slams. Since escaping from Paris with a victory achieved by Jonathan Sexton’s long-distance drop made possible by the precision engineering of 41 phases, Joe Schmidt’s squad swept to the title on a tidal flood of tries.   Eight against Italy, five against Wales, four against Scotland and three against England enabled them to win the title by the proverbial street, finishing eleven points clear of the second team home, Wales.   By then Jacob Stockdale had re-written the record book in the course of helping secure only the third Irish Slam since Karl Mullen’s revered team won the first 70 years ago.

In doing so at the first attempt, Ulster’s 21-year-old wing out-tried every other Six Nations player with seven from his five matches, one more than the previous best set by Will Greenwood for England in 2001 and equalled by the Welsh wizard Shane Williams in 2008 followed by England’s Chris Ashton three years later.   Stockdale’s tries-per-game ratio is without precedent in a Championship context – seven in five appearances.   He has scored ten in eight Tests this season, starting against Argentina in Dublin last November, eleven from nine overall.   On a global scale since the advent of professionalism more than 20 years ago, only two wings have made a more spectacular start. Joe Rokocoko scored 16 in his first ten Tests for New Zealand, a feat which Julian Savea has since gone closest to matching with 12 from ten, figures which Stockdale will equal should he start against the Wallabies in June where he finished off at England.   In saving their best for last and ensuring a stylish finale, Ireland became the first away team to complete a Slam at Twickenham since Jean-Pierre Rives’ France did so in 1981, a victory clinched by two drop goals from Guy Laporte.   Members of the first Gallic team to win the Slam, at Cardiff Arms Park in 1968, returned to the city for a 50th reunion on the occasion of France going desperately close to the win that would have clinched second place.    Wales beat them to it, surviving a late penalty for a winning finish at home after successive defeats on the road to Twickenham and Dublin.   Italy may not quite have put an end to their losing run but they won a lot of new friends in the course of a rousing performance against Scotland. The long-lost victory, denied them by Greig Laidlaw’s penalty some 90 seconds from time, would have been no more than so many Italian players deserved.   Matteo Minozzi, lauded by many as the best full back in the tournament, achieved the distinction of becoming the first Italian player to score four tries in one Six Nations campaign. What’s more he got them in successive matches in different cities – Ireland in Dublin, France in Marseilles, Wales in Cardiff and Scotland in Rome.

On either side of the perennial Sergio Parisse in the back row, Italy found ample reason for a brighter future in a pair of new flankers, Gloucester’s Jake Polledri, mighty impressive on debut in the back row, and the equally outstanding Sebastian Negri.   Behind them Tommaso Allan showed a regal quality at fly half grand enough to evoke memories of Diego Dominguez in his pomp.

In the course of collecting 22 points, Allan upstaged his distinguished predecessor by scoring two tries, two more than Dominguez scored throughout his Six Nations’ career.   Most tries in one Grand Slam campaign:   Ireland in 2018:   20 England in 2003: 18 Wales in 2005:     17 France in 2002:    15 France in 2004:    14 England in 2016: 13 France in 2010:    13 Wales in 2008:     13 Ireland in 2009:   12   How the tries came:

Round 1: Wales 4 Scotland 1 France 1 Ireland 0 Italy 2 England 7 Total: 15   Round 2:   Ireland 8 Italy 3 England 2 Wales 0 Scotland 2 France 2 Total: 17   Round 3:   France 3 Italy 2 Ireland 5 Wales 3 Scotland 3 England 1 Total: 17   Round 4:   Ireland 4 Scotland 1 France 1 England 1 Wales 5 Italy 2 Total: 14   Round 5:   Italy 3 Scotland 4 England 3 Ireland 3 Wales 1 France 1 Total: 15   My team of the 2018 Six Nations: 15 Rob Kearney (Ireland) 14 Keith Earls (Ireland) 13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland) 12 Owen Farrell (England) 11 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland) 10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)   9 Conor Murray (Ireland)   1 Cian Healy (Ireland)   2 Guilhem Guirado (France)   3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)   4 James Ryan (Ireland)   5 Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales)   6 John Barclay (Scotland)   7 Dan Leavy (Ireland)   8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales).   Replacements: Matteo Minozzi (Italy), Huw Jones (Scotland), Maxime Machenaud (France), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Rory Best (Ireland), Rabah Slimani (France), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Yacouba Camara (France)