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26th Feb 2024

“South African fans will hate me for saying this” – Sam Warburton insists Ireland are best in the world

Patrick McCarry


“We weren’t anywhere near that level.”

Sam Warburton has insisted Ireland are the best team in rugby, despite South Africa retaining their World Cup trophy just over three months ago.

Ireland defeated Wales 31-7, on Saturday, to remain on course to retain their own title. England (away) and Scotland (home) are their final two matches, and wins there would see them making Six Nations history by becoming the first side to go back-to-back with Grand Slams [it was last done during the Five Nations, by France, in 1998].

Ireland have now won 20 of their past 21 Test matches but remain second in the World Rugby rankings to the world champion Springboks, who they play in South Africa, this summer, in a two-Test series. Former Wales and Scotland captain Sam Warburton told Six Nations Rugby Special:

“Ireland are winning collisions, yes because of good shape, but they are turning on the power now. That is why they have gone scarily ahead of other teams in the Six Nations.”

“They are by far the best team in the Six Nations,” he added. “It has been a criticism of Leinster in the past and Ireland when they have played the more physical team.”

Sam Warburton

Ireland are best in the world – Sam Warburton

Sam Warburton appeared on the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast, alongside Ugo Monye, John Barclay and Chris Jones, and doubled down on his Ireland praise.

“If I can cast my mind back to when I was playing,” he said, “there were a couple of seasons when Wales were pretty good. We weren’t anywhere near that level [of Ireland’s].

“Their work-rate off the ball, both sides in attack and defence, their accuracy is just like almost unseen at international level. How comfortable they are, everyone just gets into shape so quickly. That’s why I thought it so was crushing for them at the World Cup, but they’ve responded really well.

“South African fans will hate me for saying this – I still think they’re the best team in the world. I still think they’re the best in the world. I’ve just never seen a team that are that almost complete – scrum time, the lineout had a couple of hiccups but they hadn’t lost a lineout in their first couple of games. They went three halves of rugby… Italy and Wales, three halves against two good sides and didn’t concede a single point. Their defence is just… we don’t speak enough about how good their defence is.

“I just think Ireland are so good right now. Nobody has won a championship three years in a row. I’m not sure who is going to stop them in the next couple of years, the way things are going.”

The last team to win three championship titles in a row were France, back in 1989, but the second of those trophies was shared with Wales (1988) when both nations finished on six points [points difference only came into consideration, as a deciding factor, in 1994]. No team has ever won three championships outright.

As the table stands, Ireland are currently on 15 points, with Scotland on nine and England a point further back. That six point gap means Ireland can retain their title at Twickenham, on March 9, by winning with a try-scoring bonus point.


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