Captain Johnny Sexton says Triple Crown success is just one step on Ireland’s journey as they build towards next year’s World Cup.
The Irish claimed the first major silverware of Andy Farrell’s reign following a dominant 26-5 bonus-point victory over Scotland in Dublin.
But Farrell’s men were denied outright Guinness Six Nations glory as France later completed the Grand Slam by defeating England in Paris.
Tries from Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Josh Van Der Flier and Conor Murray threw down the gauntlet for Les Bleus, while Sexton added three conversions.
The veteran fly-half is heartened by Ireland’s recent progress and, with one eye on the 2023 tournament in France, full of belief for the future.
He said: “We’ve got great potential, haven’t we?
“That’s what we have at the moment and we’ve got to make it reality and we’ve got to keep building over the next, whatever it is, 18 months to make sure that when it does come around we’ve taken a slightly different approach.
“We’ve started talking about it already that this is the journey, which is a different approach to the previous management that I’ve worked under, which I think is the right way to do it.
“We’re confident in the journey we’re on. But at the moment it’s only an opportunity. We need to keep developing.”
Defeat to champions France in round two of the championship ultimately denied Ireland the title.
They bounced back from the narrow 30-24 loss at Stade de France with three consecutive bonus-point victories to make it 13 wins from 14 dating back to the end of last year’s Six Nations.
Sexton admitted to feeling nervous before the visit of the Scots – who claimed a consolation score through Pierre Schoeman – and believes Ireland’s players showed what it means to pull on the green jersey.
“I wanted us to have something to show for all our hard work over the last few weeks,” said the 36-year-old, who celebrated the Triple Crown triumph by taking his children on a lap of honour at the Aviva Stadium.
“It’s an incredible environment. It was more for the squad. That was it. I wanted us to play our best. We didn’t quite get there but we did good things at times and we showed guts and showed everyone in the stadium what it means to us to play for Ireland. That’s the most important thing.
“Three bonus-point wins in a row after bouncing back from the loss in Paris, to do that I am very proud of this team and everyone on it.”
Ireland recorded successive third-placed finishes in their first two Six Nations campaigns under head coach Farrell, who replaced Joe Schmidt following the 2019 World Cup.
They were out of title contention inside two rounds last year and Sexton is acutely aware of how quickly circumstances can change in sport.
He said: “We have come from some low times. It’s only a few years ago we were being written off. The coach was being written off, the captain was being written off and the team was being written off.
“It’s pretty fickle, sport, isn’t it? So we will keep our feet grounded because we know how fickle it is. I’m just proud to be part of this group. Yeah, it is a very special atmosphere in here now.”
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