Ireland mastered the hype and expectations to win the Six Nations and a historic first grand slam in Dublin by seeing off England 29-16.
The Irish came into the championship as the favourite and swept through it to underline its world No.1 status and make a huge statement six months out from the Rugby World Cup, where they have never won a knockout match.
A month after beating No.2 and defending champion France at home, Ireland handled a game-but-inadequate England and took maximum points from a win and minimum four tries at a packed-out Lansdowne Road.
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Ireland’s Dublin home had never witnessed an Irish grand slam, nor a title in the Six Nations era, and these Irish delivered by wearing down England. They led 10-6 at half time and added three tries in the last quarter to Robbie Henshaw, a second for Dan Sheehan, and the last for his replacement Rob Herring.
Captain Jonathan Sexton was given the perfect send-off in his last Six Nations match with a second grand slam and the championship’s all-time point-scoring record. He limped off with six minutes to go to a standing ovation.
England redeemed itself after the hiding at home from France last weekend by fighting hard, but the effort was undermined when fullback Freddie Steward was sent off just before half time. Steward took some tension with him and the result had an air of inevitability about it.
But Ireland couldn’t ignite the St Patrick’s weekend celebrations until the Henshaw and Sheehan converted tries for 24-9 after more than an hour.
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Herring’s late try capped Ireland’s first Six Nations title since 2018 and its fifth this century. The previous grand slams were in 1948, 2009 and 2018.
England didn’t show up at Twickenham last weekend in the unprecedented home thrashing from France, but showed early on it was up for the Irish with a couple of turnovers leading to Owen Farrell’s first penalty goal.
Farrell slotted another for 6-0 while Ireland was adapting to the pressure from England’s excellent rush defense and breakdown work. Ireland was pushing too many passes and getting slowed down in the rucks.
Sexton, who was held up over the line from a quick tapped penalty, converted his first penalty kick and received his first standing ovation. He left behind a tie with Irish predecessor Ronan O’Gara as the championship’s highest point-scorer.
Incidentally, Farrell was fourth on the list, behind Jonny Wilkinson, who helped Farrell recently repair his 47 per cent goal kicking success. Sexton and Farrell both landed four out of four.
Ireland finally converted a try chance in the 33rd from a short lineout. England committed to a rolling maul but, instead, Josh van der Flier snuck in behind and fed inside him hooker Sheehan, who charged to the line.
Seconds before half time, Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan scooped up a spilled forward pass and ran head on into Steward, who turned shoulder first to brace for the collision. That failure to show duty of care for Keenan caused Steward to be sent off by referee Jaco Peyper.
Keenan didn’t return either, failing a head injury assessment during the interval.
Ireland was laboring in the new half to make the most of the man advantage, and Farrell’s third penalty closed the gap to one.
When England wing Anthony Watson took a Sexton crosskick and was carried back over his tryline, Ireland struck from the attacking scrum.
Henshaw, only recently fit after wrist and hamstring injuries, met a pass from midfield partner Bundee Aki in a gap to score.
Minutes later, Ireland went the short side again and back-rower Jack Conan drew two defenders to put Sheehan over for his second try of the match.
With Sexton’s extras, the result was safe and Lansdowne Road broke into song.
On a day for hookers, England’s Jamie George scored from their one try chance in a rolling maul, but Ireland had the last say when Sheehan’s replacement Herring burst off a maul and scored.
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