What lies ahead: Ireland

The 2018 NatWest 6 Nations will go down as one of the greatest in Ireland’s history after they clinched just the third Grand Slam.

The 2018 NatWest 6 Nations will go down as one of the greatest in Ireland’s history after they clinched just the third Grand Slam.

The celebrations from that 24-15 victory over England at a snowy Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day, of all days, are only just dying down with the players going back to their respective clubs.

They do so having won the Irish’s third Championship in five years, which has lifted them up to second in the World Rugby rankings, with only the mighty New Zealand ahead of them.

Here, we look at what’s next for Joe Schmidt’s champions.   Going over Down Under

After proving themselves to be the best team in the Championship, it’s just under three months until Ireland begin a three-match Test series in their tour of Australia.

It is there where they’ll be looking to make yet more history under head coach Joe Schmidt, as they haven’t defeated the Wallabies on their own turf since 1979.

Since the day that two penalties and a drop goal from Ollie Campbell gave them a 9-3 victory in Sydney, the Irish have lost each of their last ten Tests on Australian soil.

But this year feels like as good a chance as any to claim a series victory over one of the Southern Hemisphere giants, as they face off against Michael Cheika’s men at Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in June.

Beyond that, Ireland will look to prove their first-ever victory over New Zealand in 2016 was no fluke when they face the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium in November, as the top two teams in the world collide.

Youngsters continue to blossom

One of the main features of Ireland’s NatWest 6 Nations campaign was how the younger players in their squad flourished alongside their more senior teammates.

None more so than Jacob Stockdale and it will be interesting to see how long the 21-year-old can maintain the form that allowed him to score a record seven tries in the campaign and be named Player of the Championship.

Garry Ringrose made a superb return at outside centre in the last two matches after his injury troubles and now has the chance to make the No.13 shirt his own.

It was also a breakthrough year for 21-year-old lock James Ryan and Dan Leavy’s prodigious work-rate made him a superb replacement for the injured Josh van der Flier in the back row.

When you add the likes of Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter, as well as exciting Under-20s Michael Silvester and Jack O’Sullivan, the future is looking extremely bright for Ireland.

Golden centre

One area where Schmidt now has an embarrassment of riches is in midfield, where Ireland made light of several injuries to afflict their centres to show their strength in depth.

Back in the day, you could argue that Ireland needed Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll in tandem or their attacking game would struggle to click.

But not only do they now have more midfield options than ever before, most of Ireland’s centres are in their early 20s.

Robbie Henshaw surely has more to give once he comes back from the shoulder injury that ended his Championship, while the same can be said for Chris Farrell, after he twisted knee ligaments after his Man of the Match display against Wales.

We’ve already mentioned the virtues of Ringrose and Bundee Aki, who played in all five games, has taken to international rugby like a duck to water.

This quartet, not to mention the superb talents of Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, should ensure that there are plenty of successes for Ireland ahead.