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Ireland dare to dream after record win at Twickenham

PICTURE: Jack Conan, Hugo Keenan, and Ian Henderson.

After four rollercoaster rounds of Six Nations action, it all comes down to the final day on Saturday.

With Ireland still in with a big chance of winning the title, it promises to be another pulsating affair. Ireland must keep up their side of the bargain by beating Scotland at the Aviva Stadium before all eyes turn to Paris, where Andy Farrell's men will need a favour from England.
 
Should France lose and only pick up one or no bonus point, then an Ireland victory would be enough to see them crowned champions.
 
All the pressure is on Les Bleus and playing in front of a heaving Stade de France, this is set to provide them with a taste of what is to come next year, when the World Cup comes to France.
 
Ireland will still have regrets about the way they came up short in Paris earlier in the tournament, but since then, they have put back-to-back bonus point wins together, which means they have kept the pressure on France.
 
Just as England will arrive in Paris looking to spoil the party, Scotland would love nothing more than to upset proceedings in Dublin.
 
From that end, there is no room for complacency, and with Ireland having made the decision to fly home from London late on Saturday night to give themselves a full day off on Sunday, before hitting the ground running on Monday, Farrell has ensured that no one takes their eye off the ball.
 
To be fair, there is no sense that any of the Ireland players will take Scotland for granted because even if Gregor Townsend's side haven't been all that convincing throughout this campaign, they still pose a major threat, with the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg capable of producing moments of magic out of nothing.
 
With their sights firmly set on the task at hand, Ireland will have bounced into training this week after an enthralling win over England.
 
Although the performance was far from perfect, particularly when you consider Ireland had a man advantage for 78 minutes of the game, there were several encouraging aspects that has them well set to see off Scotland this weekend.
 
Irish victories at Twickenham are rare. Irish bonus point victories at Twickenham are even more rare, and they certainly should not be underestimated, regardless of the way they come about.
 
The scrum will be a major focus point in training, but for all that England exerted their dominance, it's important to realise that it is now commonly accepted that other referees would not have shared Mathieu Raynal's view for several of the penalties that went against Ireland.
 
For that reason, Farrell will not be pushing the panic button just yet, even if there will be plenty of reflection on what the Ireland pack could have done differently to counteract the actions of the England front-row.
 
Considering Ireland's game-plan is still very much a work in progress, there is nothing wrong with learning a harsh lesson like that, 18 months out from a World Cup, particularly when it still results in a record victory at Twickenham.
 
Fresh from becoming Energia's newest rugby ambassador last month, Hugo Keenan delivered his best performance in a green jersey, which is quite the statement considering his remarkable level of consistency since he broke into the team.
 
Keenan was outstanding from full-back, as he brought his usual reliable stability to the back-field, whilst mixing his clever potency in attack.
 
The confidence Keenan exudes every time he takes to the pitch means that those around him feed off that positivity, with wingers James Lowe and Andrew Conway also putting in excellent displays.
 
After what must have been an emotional week for Johnny Sexton, who announced that he will retire following next year's World Cup, the Ireland captain relished his final Six Nations outing at Twickenham.
 
As Sexton was replaced by Joey Carbery in the closing stages, the veteran out-half walked slowly off the famous hallowed turf, soaking it all in.
 
For all that Sexton has achieved in his illustrious career, leading Ireland to the Six Nations title would surely rank amongst his best achievements.
 
A win over Scotland would see Ireland win the Triple Crown and even though Sexton has already spoken about how much he would cherish that, there is no doubt that his eyes are on the big prize.
 
By the time England and France kick off in Paris on Saturday evening, the tension will crank up several notches, as the supporters at a packed Aviva Stadium make their way to the nearest TV, hoping to have seen their team win a third game on the bounce.
 
If Ireland manage to do so, the pressure on France will be huge, as their passionate home crowd expect big things from this supremely talented side.
 
England, however, have their backs firmly to the wall and with a different kind of pressure mounting on Eddie Jones, he needs a big performance from his side in order not to condemn them to another poor finish.
 
It's perfectly set up to be an enthralling final round of the Six Nations. Don't be surprised if there is a late sting in the tail, as Ireland dare to dream.
 
Written by: Cian Tracey, Rugby Writer, Irish Independent

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