Rugby imperial Ireland beat England to win Six Nations Grand Slam
By Padric Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland ended their fourth Six Nations Grand Slam with a 29-16 win over England at the vibrant Aviva Stadium on Saturday, emphatic confirming their status as the world’s top team ahead of September’s World Cup.
The script could not have been better prepared – a chance to seal a first Grand Slam over St Patrick’s Day weekend in Dublin – and Ireland delivered, although more nervous than they would have liked, against an English side, which was reduced to 14 men for the entire second half.
England were just a point away from an upset with 20 minutes to go but late attempts from Robbie Henshaw, Rob Herring and a runner-up for Man of the Match Dan Sheehan secured Ireland’s 15th championship and fifth since 2009.
“You couldn’t make it up, it’s like you’re living in a dream. We didn’t do our best, but damn it, what a team. What a group of coaches,” played Ireland captain Johnny Sexton in his last Six Nations game, he said in a pitchside interview.
“To come here and win St. Patrick’s weekend is incredible. What a day.”
Andy Farrell’s side were worthy of the clean win as they had won every game by 13 points or more, averaged four draws per game and finished the 14-game run of winners France unbeaten in the 2022 Championship game .
The manager praised his entire squad for dealing with adversity, from losing a few key players to injuries – five alone in last week’s win against Scotland – to winning when it was needed, as they very often did on Saturday have done.
England, on the other hand, were trying to regain some pride after last week’s record 53-10 home loss to France and they won some early turnovers better and turned their pressure into a deserved 6-0 lead.
While Ireland saw a clear threat in attack, they made uncharacteristic mistakes. Sexton, whose 19th-minute penalty made him the Six Nations’ all-time leading scorer, later joked that they did exactly the opposite of what the coaches told them.
As the English counted more and more penalties as they tried to stem the tide, the breakthrough came after 32 minutes. Josh van der Flier peeled off the back of a ruck, found Sheehan with a back pass and there was no stopping the explosive hooker once he had his sights set on the leash.
The bigger turning point came eight minutes later, however, when Freddie Steward elbowed his opponent, Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan, in the head while he was upright and was sent off.
When it looked like Ireland were heading for a Grand Slam in Dublin after successes in Twickenham (2018), Cardiff (2009) and Belfast (1948), England had other ideas and another Owen Farrell penalty after the break resulted in 10th place : 9
It took a try for Henshaw, who was starting his first game of the championship, before relief spread around the stadium when Sheehan’s second nearly won the first Six Nations title since 1985 in front of their own fans.
Jamie George snagged a consolation shot for England before Ireland reserve hooker Herring extended the lead again as Ireland went on to 22 wins in their last 24 games and the party started.
“I thought we showed a tremendous amount of fighting. Of course the game changed with the map but we still showed a lot of fighting and stayed with it,” said England captain Farrell.
“We’ve laid some foundations over the course of the Six Nations but we clearly want to be a better team.”
The defeat moved England fourth in the table and for the third consecutive Six Nations with more defeats than wins after winning the Championship in 2020.
France took second place, Scotland third. Wales finished fifth and it was another wooden spoon for Italy.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by Toby Davis)