Ireland 29 England 16: Irish win Six Nations and Grand Slam after seeing off brave 14-man England as Steward sent off
IRELAND’S victory was controversial, England’s defeat was glorious – but few of those celebrating a green-sweep Grand Slam would have given a stuff.
With Andy Farrell’s ranked No 1 in the world and England having suffered an historic 53-10 humiliation against France last week, Steve Borthwick’s men had been written off as complete no-hopers.
GettyRob Herring’s try sparked huge rejoicing as Ireland knew the Grand Slam was theirs[/caption]
GettyRobbie Henshaw crosses for the try that broke England’s second-half resistance[/caption]
ReutersJohnny Sexton celebrates Dan Sheehan’s crucial opening score[/caption]
GettyHerring plunges over for Ireland’s fourth and final touchdown[/caption]
But it took the harsh sending-off of England full-back Freddie Steward on the stroke of half-time to tilt the balance – and even after they were reduced to 14 men, the visitors kept the match on a knife edge until the final 20 minutes.
Steward got his marching orders when his elbow connected with the head of his Irish opposite number Hugo Keenan, as he appeared to be trying to avoid contact.
Ireland had just taken the lead at that point but were only 10-9 ahead going into the final quarter as England restored battered pride even if their best performance of this campaign ultimately ended in defeat.
Owen Farrell, dropped by Borthwick for the French debacle, gave a stirring captain’s performance which at times threatened to rob his dad Andy of his crowning glory.
But three late Irish tries gave the scoreline a flattering gloss to bely a nervy performance from the hosts and impressive showing from the visitors.
It was only the fourth Grand Slam in Ireland’s history and the first they had ever secured in Dublin.
This had been some week for the Irish, having already dominated the Cheltenham festival, including a Gold Cup winner on St Patrick’s Day.
In the aftermath of those celebrations, Dublin was still over-run by American tourists, all fancying themselves to have Irish ancestry, but who would have wondered where the crash helmets and shoulder pads had gone if they’d caught any of the action from Lansdowne Road.
Ireland wing Mack Hansen had stoked things up with an ‘everybody hates the English’ jibe but then again Hansen is Australian and we all know about that lot.
FREE BETS AND SIGN UP DEALS – BEST NEW CUSTOMER OFFERS
The authentic Irish punters were all trying to sound humble and pessimistic before kick-off, believing their countrymen always find a way to balls it up when they have been burdened by expectations of greatness.
And for a long stretch, it felt as though they had a serious point.
Borthwick had also recalled Manu Tuilagi, the powerhouse centre he’d discarded at the start of the tournament and gave a first Test start to young wing Henry Arundell.
Tuilagi was soon bashing his way through a sea of green shirts, Itoje too, and it was clear England had been suitably chastened by last week’s limp capitulation.
While Freddie Steward passed on the chance to send Arundell through for a possible early try, a Farrell penalty put the visitors in front.
Johnny Sexton passed up an opportunity to equalise, kicking for the corner but was robbed after he crossed the line.
Farrell doubled England’s lead, despite a local with a klaxon trying to distract him – but Sexton soon landed a penalty to get Ireland on the scoreboard and set a new Championship record points haul of 560 in his farewell Six Nations appearance.
The crowd were roaring every successful Irish tackle, kick or pass but it was beginning to get nervy until 33 minutes, when Ireland capitalised on a line-out and Josh Van der Flier fed Dan Sheehan who suckered Alex Dombrandt and darted over the line to give Ireland the lead.
Sexton converted and the Aviva erupted and anticipated the boys in green returning to the pre-agreed script.
They did so with a huge helping hand – or elbow – from Steward, which undid a defiant first-half performance, South African ref Jaco ‘Sergeant’ Peyper showing the red card.
PAIreland celebrate Sheehan notching the only try of the first half[/caption]
PASheehan bursts over as Ireland edged towards the crown[/caption]
Assessments of the decision ranged between ‘harsh’ and ‘farcical’. Steward had been England’s star player of a miserable tournament and did not deserve to end it in disgrace.
England refused to face the inevitable and started the second half spiritedly. After a scrum penalty, Farrell reduced the deficit to a single point.
Borthwick’s boys, utterly unrecognisable from the feeble rabble of last week, were pumped up and rattling the Irish, who were showing signs of losing their heads and their bottle.
But soon after the hour mark, Sexton’s kick set up camp inside the England 22 and Robbie Henshaw eventually spotted the gap in the English lines and crashed over for a try marked with a huge sigh of relief from the vast majority of the crowd.
Sexton converted and, eight points clear, Ireland were surely home and hosed.
Sheehan went over in the corner for his second try, Sexton adding the afters again – but England still refused to lie down and Jamie George went over for a try after a fierce driving maul.
Sexton limped off to a standing ovation, with Ireland eight points clear but any lingering doubt was ended by England flanker Jack Willis being yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Ross Byrne.
It was hook, line and sinker once Rob Herring stretched for the line to add a fourth Irish try and spark delirium across the Emerald Isle.
GettyEngland’s Anthony Watson is tackled by Jamison Gibson-Park[/caption]