Ireland finish over the top of England to claim glorious Grand Slam

Ireland 29

England 16

AN EVENING OF the collective breath being held, stomachs churning, and nails being shredded. But an evening of glorious, guttural celebration too as Ireland finished over the top of England.

Now a night of wild celebration awaits after Ireland claimed this island’s fourth-ever Grand Slam. Coming as it does in Dublin on St Patrick’s weekend truly makes this the stuff of dreams.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Robbie Henshaw scores for Ireland.

The tension could have been cut with a knife at times as Andy Farrell’s Ireland were forced to work for it by an England side who played half the game with 14 men after a red card for fullback Freddie Steward. But the home team went up a gear in the closing quarter as they made their numerical advantage count in resounding fashion, helped by an astounding impact from replacement back row Jack Conan.

When the nerves were at their most heightened in the stands, the Irish players found calm to score four outstanding tries, with a brace for player of the match Dan Sheehan, one for outside centre Robbie Henshaw, and the final finish for sub hooker Rob Herring.

Captain Johnny Sexton became the leading points scorer in Six Nations history with a 100% return off the tee as his composure shone through in his last-ever championship game. The 37-year-old limped off injured late on to a deafening reception.

After home wins against the French and English, as well as victories on the road versus Wales, Italy, and Scotland, this Grand Slam is well and truly deserved for Farrell’s brilliant side.

The occasion tested them at times as their error count went alarmingly high for stints, but they found their nerve to steady the ship in the second half. They were helped by a tough call against Steward for his collision with Irish fullback Hugo Keenan just before half time. Referee Jaco Peyper’s red-card call will be debated.

It matters little to Ireland right now. Grand Slam celebrations are in store.

They will have learned plenty tonight but this championship has been hugely impressive, with four bonus-point wins from five games. They’re the number one team in the world and it’s hard for Irish fans not to be excited about the World Cup later this year.

Ireland will go in with realistic ambitions and their journey is far from complete but that’s for another day.

With the Fields of Athenry ringing out around Dublin, the final whistle here was greeted in ecstasy. These good times don’t last forever, so Ireland’s players and supporters will enjoy this one.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Johnny Sexton became the standalone leading Six Nations points scorer.

Ireland were certainly shaky in the opening 15 minutes, resulting in a sharp-looking England taking a 6-0 lead and giving the home fans lots of unwelcome anxiety.

The English had given away two soft penalties early on through Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje but Ireland lacked their usual accuracy. Jack Willis and Henry Arundell won breakdown poaches, while the Irish pack had a big lineout mix-up for another turnover.

The opening three points came from Farrell’s boot when Andrew Porter was pinged for not rolling away from a tackle, but Ireland had a big chance to respond. It came from Keenan catching an English kick overhead brilliantly, then chasing his own kick and chopping down Arundell for Porter to jackal for a breakdown penalty.

Ireland threatened on the ensuing lineout attack as Sexton’s inside pass freed Josh van der Flier, then Sexton’s quick hands sent the brilliant James Lowe bursting through but the left wing’s pass was batted down. England, though, were penalised for a second roll on the ground and Sexton opted to quick tap the penalty only to be held up over the tryline.


Ireland’s inaccuracy with ball-in-hand continued and they found themselves defending back in their own neck of the woods, where Porter was singled out for an early drive on the English lifter at lineout time, allowing Farrell to make it 6-0.

Again, Ireland had an instant chance to strike back. Itoje lost the restart, with James Ryan diving on it before Sheehan and the influential Keenan made scything runs. Ireland were suddenly numbers up only metres out from the tryline but Tadhg Furlong carried when he had to pass.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Bundee Aki tackles Manu Tuilagi.

A couple of phases later, the Ireland tighthead threw a loose pass and the opportunity was gone. It was unlike this Irish team but they did draw blood just before the quarter mark as Sexton slotted the record-breaking points for 6-3 after Kyle Sinckler went off his feet while jackaling.

The Grand Slam chasers were soon withstanding more English pressure as Manu Tuilagi did damage in the carry. The omnipresent Lowe had to hammer him into touch on scramble defence out on his wing. With his locks flowing, Lowe pumped the crowd up after that tackle.

A silly late tackle with no arms by Alex Dombrant on Sexton soon invited Ireland back into the English 22, but they were wasteful again as Ryan knocked-on Caelan Doris’ late tip-on pass, then England won a scrum penalty at the first such set-piece of the day.

Momentum was in the balance when who else but Keenan went up to grab it out of the sky, resoundingly winning back Sexton’s midfield bomb. Two phases later, England loosehead Ellis Genge was penalised for a tackle off the ball and Ireland kicked to touch down the left.

They struck beautifully from there for Sheehan’s 34th-minute try. Van der Flier broke infield from the dummy maul and as Jamison Gibson-Park and Lowe scuttled down the shortside to keep England honest, van der Flier drew Dombrandt and passed inside for Sheehan to break. His finish past Tuilagi and Jack van Poortvliet was pacy and aggressive.

As Sexton converted for 10-6, you could just hear the exhalation of pent-up Irish breath.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Dan Sheehan scores for Ireland.

The stress was further eased with the clock in the red just before the break. Ireland right wing Mack Hansen had knocked the ball on in a threatening position but TMO Marius Jonker brought to the attention of referee Jaco Peyper a big collision just after.

The video review showed a nasty collision between Keenan – who had stooped to collect the ball – and England fullback Steward. The latter’s elbow smashed into Keenan’s head but one had to wonder where Steward was supposed to go at such a late stage.

Peyper decided it was a high-danger collision with no mitigation and Steward was shown red. Ireland had a last chance to extend their lead before the interval but Baird knocked on a few metres out.

While Keenan didn’t return from his HIA after half time, England’s 14 men looked stretched almost immediately from the restart. Ireland cross-kicked twice and Gibson-Park broke down the left the second time, chipping ahead to find touch five metres out.

The visitors clung in though as Ireland made another string of errors that included Jimmy O’Brien, on at fullback for Keenan, knocking-on a high ball just outside his own 22.

England turned that scrum into a penalty as Furlong was pinged and Farrell drew England back to 10-9. Even the stadium announcer was showing nerves at this stage as he mistakenly announced a scoreline of 10-0 to Ireland.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Steward was shown red just before half time.

The English players were enjoying it, celebrating wildly as Peter O’Mahony knocked on Sheehan’s long throw over the tail of an Irish lineout. Once again, the stress levels among the home fans rose unbearably, not helped by Hansen being caught in his own 22 and Sexton shanking his clearing kick into touch.

With just over 20 minutes left and just after replacement back row Jack Conan had helped Ireland to break up an English maul, England won another big scrum penalty and you just sensed that Ireland needed a big play. It was second row Ryan Baird who came up with it, pouncing for a breakdown turnover.

From the ensuing lineout, Sexton cross-kicked into space in the right corner and Hansen combined with Henshaw and O’Brien to drive Anthony Watson back over his own tryline. Scrum five metres out for Ireland. This was the chance.

With advantage playing from the scrum collapse, Aki carried hard and then Conan thundered around the corner. Another pen advantage for England offside and Ireland bounced back to their right, where Aki had got off the ground to take Gibson-Park’s pass, straighten and drop a short pass off for centre partner Henshaw to dive over.

Sexton’s accurate conversion gave Ireland breathing room to the tune of eight points at 17-9.

The party started properly with 10 minutes to go as Ireland sniped down the shortside where Conan produced a stunning offload out of the tackle to send Sheehan over for his second score. Again, Sexton nailed the extras and the game was done and dusted.

ireland finish over the top of england to claim glorious grand slam

Ireland celebrate Dan Sheehan’s second try.

England did grab a consolation score through hooker Jamie George but there was no time for a real scare. There was, though, time for England flanker Jack Willis to be sin-binned for tipping Ross Byrne over in a clearout.

There was also enough left on the clock for Ireland to notch the bonus-point try, making it four bonus-point wins from five games as replacement hooker Rob Herring broke off the maul and stretched out to score.

Ireland are Grand Slam champions. The Paddy’s weekend celebrations might just roll into next week.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Dan Sheehan [2], Robbie Henshaw, Rob Herring.

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [3 from 3]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [1 from 1]

England scorers:

Tries: Jamie George

Conversion: Owen Farrell [1 from 1]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [3 from 3]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Jimmy O’Brien ’40); Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’74), Jamison Gibson-Park (Conor Murray ’75); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ‘), Dan Sheehan (Rob Herring ’70), Tadhg Furlong (Tom O’Toole ’59); Ryan Baird (Kieran Treadwell ’75), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (Jack Conan ’56), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

ENGLAND: Freddie Steward (red card ’40); Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Arundell (Joe Marchant ’59); Owen Farrell (captain), Jack van Poortvliet (Alex Mitchell ’70); Ellis Genge (Mako Vunipola ’65), Jamie George (Jack Walker ‘), Kyle Sinckler (Dan Cole ’68); Maro Itoje, David Ribbans (Nick Isiekwe ’70); Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis (blood – Ben Curry ’53 to ’65) (yellow card ’76), Alex Dombrandt.

Replacement not used: Marcus Smith

Referee: Jaco Peyper [SARU].

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