February 28, 2018 / 7:42 AM / 17 days ago

Rugby - Irish eyes smiling as Grand Slam comes into view

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Rare Grand Slam success beckons for unbeaten Ireland and the possibility of a perfect Six Nations campaign is infusing coach Joe Schmidt with excited anticipation after the team won their opening three games of this year’s tournament.

Rugby Union - Ireland Captain's Run - Stade de France Stadium, Saint-Denis, France - February 2, 2018 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the captain's run REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

“Jeez I’d love to win a championship, but the Grand Slam is super special, especially here,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Ireland have only swept the board twice, in 1948 and 2009, although they did win back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.

“I witnessed 2009 from a distance. I was living in Clermont but I saw how people reacted, what it meant to people,” the New Zealander added.

“For us, it would be fantastic if that was something we managed to do but it would be really special if we managed to get three championships in five years.

“That would be an incredible representation of a consistency at the very top level of Europe, and you throw in a few of the southern hemisphere results and it’s been an exciting time for some of these players to really test themselves.”

Ireland have beaten France away and Italy and Wales in Dublin and will host Scotland next on March 10 before finishing their campaign at Twickenham against England seven days later.

“These next two games, I think they just get bigger and bigger, don’t they?” he said.

“Scotland on that upward spiral; we’re at home in Dublin. We know the reality is that if we can get the result there then other people have to do something special to stop us from getting the championship.

“So it’s a massive short-term focus for us. I think I said I’d bite your hand off after those first two wins for a third and that certainly hasn’t changed. February and 14 out of 15 points? That’s perfect for us so far.

“The imperfect thing is that we know we’ve been vulnerable in some areas of the game. We know we won’t win the championship unless we can make sure that we are good on both sides of the ball.”

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by John O'Brien

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