Ireland completed a Six Nations Grand Slam with a 24-15 win against England at Twickenham on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
It is only Ireland's third Grand Slam in history, having previously achieved the feat in 1948 and 2009, and only the second time a visiting team has secured a Grand Slam at the home of English rugby in six attempts (France did so in 1981).
For dethroned back-to-back champions England, it is a third consecutive defeat and they will go into their three-Test series against the Springboks in June low on confidence.
Ireland were full value for this victory, scoring three tries and defending superbly. With just 46% possession and 42% territory, they had to make 173 tackles compared to the hosts' 133.
Johnny Sexton has been hugely influential for Ireland in this campaign and it was his pin-point up-and-under that helped them make the perfect start at Twickenham. Anthony Watson failed to collect the ball in the air, close to his tryline, and Garry Ringrose dived on the loose ball to score.
Sexton slotted the conversion, but his first penalty attempt in the 22nd minute came off the right-hand upright, much to the crowd's surprise.
However, Ireland did add to their tally soon after, when a set move from a lineout saw Bundee Aki break away and find CJ Stander, who grounded the ball against the left-hand upright for his side's second converted try.
Forced to play catch-up, England twice turned down a shot at goal and instead kicked a penalty into the corner. Twice Ireland stopped England's lineout driving maul illegally and on the second occasion, Peter O’Mahony was yellow-carded. The hosts again kicked for touch and this time, they lost their own lineout.
But England did make their one-man advantage count when, after a 12-phase attack, Owen Farrell's grubber through the defence was chased down by Elliot Daly. Farrell's conversion went wide.
Restored to 15 men, Ireland struck a big blow at the end of the first half. As the clock ticked past 41 minutes, Conor Murray sent Jacob Stockdale away down the blindside, with the left wing chipping over Mike Brown's head. As Brown and Jonny May attempted to tackle Stockdale just before the tryline, the ball came off the Irishman's knee. He shook off the defenders before chasing down the loose ball to score his seventh try of the campaign – a Six Nations record. Sexton's conversion made it 21-5.
England dominated the opening minutes of the second half, but a sustained assault on the Irish tryline was ended by a ruck penalty.
Sexton had left the field late in the first half only to return early in the second, but it was Murray who took Ireland's next shot at goal, with his penalty extending the lead.
England gave themselves a glimmer of hope when an excellent backline move finished with Brown handing off Keith Earls and drawing Rob Kearney, before putting Daly away in the left-hand corner. But Farrell again missed the conversion, leaving his side 14 points adrift with 15 minutes to go.
Joey Carbery then replaced Sexton again – this time for good – and missed a 70th-minute penalty goal.
England finished with a flourish, with Jonny May scoring an 82nd-minute consolation try, but it was Ireland who celebrated a famous win.
England – Tries: Elliot Daly (2), Jonny May.
Ireland – Tries: Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander, Jacob Stockdale. Conversions: Johnny Sexton (3). Penalty: Conor Murray.
England – 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Don Armand, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Mike Brown.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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