Ireland created history by sealing a historic Six Nations Grand Slam after victory over England

Ireland created history by sealing a historic Six Nations Grand Slam after victory over England

Ireland claimed a historic first Six Nations Grand Slam in Dublin, and fourth ever, courtesy of a 29-16 victory over England at a fervent Aviva Stadium, after the visitors lost full-back Freddie Steward to a first half red card.

Previous Ireland Grand Slam wins in 1948 (Belfast), 2009 (Cardiff) and 2018 (Twickenham) had each been won away from home, but tries from hooker Dan Sheehan (two), centre Robbie Henshaw and replacement Rob Herring confirmed a title-winning success. Skipper Johnny Sexton also added nine points with the boot in his final Six Nations Test, becoming the all-time points scorer in the championship in the process.

Ireland – Tries: Sheehan (33, 68), Henshaw (62), Herring (77). Cons: Sexton (35, 63, 70). Pens: Sexton (19).

England – Tries: George (73). Cons: Farrell (73). Pens: Farrell (8, 15, 51).

England skipper Owen Farrell had kicked his side into a 6-0 lead, while the visiting defence proved strong for most of the first half before Sheehan broke through to score. Steward was then sent off by South African referee Jaco Peyper with Ireland 10-6 ahead for making head contact with opposite number Hugo Keenan in a harsh decision, with the England man turning away and bracing for contact after a knock-on more than initiating a forceful act.

In Peyper’s defence, Keenan would not return for the second half such was the ferocity of the impact to his head, and despite the hosts putting in a nervy performance on the whole, nothing could sour Ireland’s day after a marvellous championship clean sweep for Andy Farrell’s squad.

Johnny Sexton led Ireland to Grand Slam success in the final Six Nations Test of his career Johnny Sexton led Ireland to Grand Slam success in the final Six Nations Test of his career

Johnny Sexton led Ireland to Grand Slam success in the final Six Nations Test of his career

Contact on Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park in the air by an overcharged Farrell granted Ireland early access into the England half, but Jack Willis produced a superb breakdown steal to halt the move. England’s 10 rather snatched at a clearance kick, however, before Maro Itoje – again showing over eagerness – was penalised for playing the nine at a ruck to invite Ireland back on – but it was an attack which would not last long as Sheehan overthrew the lineout.

Ireland’s Andy Farrell made three changes to the side to face England in Dublin in search of a Six Nations Grand Slam: Robbie Henshaw and Ryan Baird replaced injured duo Garry Ringrose, Iain Henderson, while Jamison Gibson-Park started over Conor Murray at scrum-half. No 8 Caelan Doris and hooker Dan Sheehan were passed fit to start

England’s Steve Borthwick made four changes to the side destroyed 53-10 by France at Twickenham; Skipper Owen Farrell was recalled and replaced Marcus Smith at 10; Manu Tuilagi replaced the injured Ollie Lawrence at inside-centre; Henry Arundell came in on the wing for his first Test start, with Max Malins dropped from the squad; David Ribbans came in to replace injured Ollie Chessum at lock

Another England breakdown turnover – this time near the Ireland 22 – put them onto the attack for the first time in the Test, and 13 phases later, Farrell kicked England into a 3-0 lead after Ireland were penalised for failing to roll away. Two minutes later, Ireland loosehead Andrew Porter did fantastically well to win a breakdown turnover after Hugo Keenan had chopped down Henry Arundell.

Owen Farrell kicked England into an early 6-0 lead with two penalties Owen Farrell kicked England into an early 6-0 lead with two penalties

Owen Farrell kicked England into an early 6-0 lead with two penalties

Sexton turned down a potential shot for points for a kick to the corner, and though it wasn’t the cleanest strike to touch, it nonetheless put Ireland attacking within the 22. Flanker Josh van der Flier almost broke through on a line, and once England were penalised five metres out, Sexton took a surprising quick-tap which didn’t come off, when a combination of Farrell and Alex Dombrandt held him up over the try-line.

A TMO review was called to check whether Farrell was onside before making the tackle, and was deemed to be so in a tight call with Itoje found to have played him back on. Ireland wing Mack Hansen then sliced out under little pressure, after which England forced their second penalty of the day when Ireland drove early at the lineout, allowing Farrell to kick the visitors 6-0 ahead in the 15th minute.

Ireland came roaring back as Keenan scythed through into the 22 on a line-break, but just when the hosts seemed certainties to score out wide, tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong blew the overlap by taking the ball into contact instead of shipping it on. Moments later, Sexton kicked Ireland onto the scoreboard with a penalty from 37 metres out or so after England prop Kyle Sinckler was penalised at the breakdown – becoming the record Six Nations points scorer of all time in doing so.

Sexton converted a penalty against England to become the all-time Six Nations points scorer Sexton converted a penalty against England to become the all-time Six Nations points scorer

Sexton converted a penalty against England to become the all-time Six Nations points scorer

A horribly skewed Keenan clearance kick put Ireland under big pressure within their own 22, but superb defence saw Manu Tuilagi tackled into touch, before Itoje took out a soaring Peter O’Mahony at the subsequent lineout to see Ireland complete the exit. Stirring Hansen and Henshaw breaks from deep brought the Irish crowd to their feet, before a needless Dombrandt late tackle on Sexton invited Ireland into the 22.

The England defence continued to enjoy success when up against it, however, forcing the Irish attack back, lock Ryan Baird to knock-on and then a penalty at the scrum when Ireland were adjudged to have wheeled it by ref Peyper.

Another unnecessary penalty – Ellis Genge taking a player out off the ball – handed Ireland a chance to attack in the 22 again, and this time they took ruthless advantage as the outstanding Sheehan stormed through off a superbly disguised Josh van der Flier inside ball, skittling England defenders on his way to grounding. Sexton converted with aplomb for a 10-6 lead, before superb defence saw Arundell wrapped into a choke tackle maul and turnover to stop England’s final foray of the half.

Dan Sheehan romped through to score a nervy Ireland's first try Dan Sheehan romped through to score a nervy Ireland's first try

Dan Sheehan romped through to score a nervy Ireland’s first try

There remained time for a massively significant moment, though, as foul play by Steward – taking out Keenan with a tucked arm, and connecting with the Ireland full-back’s head after he had lost the ball – resulted in a red card as Peyper confirmed he could find no mitigation. Ireland couldn’t take advantage before the break, as lock James Ryan knocked on.

Hugo Keenan was hit in the head by Freddie Steward in an incident very late in the first half Hugo Keenan was hit in the head by Freddie Steward in an incident very late in the first half

Hugo Keenan was hit in the head by Freddie Steward in an incident very late in the first half

Referee Jaco Peyper produced a red card to Steward for the tackle Referee Jaco Peyper produced a red card to Steward for the tackle

Referee Jaco Peyper produced a red card to Steward for the tackle

The start of the second half proved no more fruitful, with Farrell next to score points off the tee after another scrum decision went England’s way, reducing the gap to a single point. Sexton next sliced off the park as the Test drifted towards the hour mark, and though Gibson-Park and Jack Conan defended the maul brilliantly, the home scrum continued to be on the wrong side of Peyper, as England forced another penalty to march down the pitch again.

A superb Baird breakdown penalty allowed Ireland to clear, though, and after Sexton executed a stunning tactical kick towards the corner, Anthony Watson was forced back over his own try-line to earn Ireland a five-metre scrum to launch from. In the ensuing attack, Ireland clicked into gear ruthlessly as the returning Henshaw leapt over for their crucial second try off a Bundee Aki short ball.

Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland's second try Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland's second try

Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland’s second try

Another fabulous choke tackle maul – led by the effervescent Sexton and Aki – stemmed England’s attacking response, but Sheehan soon had his second try, diving over in the corner after a scintillating piece of play filled with quick passes, pacy lines of running and a magnificent Conan offload out of contact.

Sheehan notched his second and Ireland's third six minutes later Sheehan notched his second and Ireland's third six minutes later

Sheehan notched his second and Ireland’s third six minutes later

Dan Sheehan celebrates after scoring his second try of the game against England Dan Sheehan celebrates after scoring his second try of the game against England

Dan Sheehan celebrates after scoring his second try of the game against England

Sexton drilled over the touchline conversion with arms aloft, and though England did land a second half punch in the form of a wonderful Jamie George maul try, Willis was soon sin-binned for a dangerous lift tackle on Ross Byrne, and replacement hooker Herring then stretched out to confirm the bonus-point, leaving the Aviva Stadium awash with renditions of the Fields of Athenry on a momentous day.

Replacement hooker Rob Herring scored Ireland's fourth try with four minutes to go Replacement hooker Rob Herring scored Ireland's fourth try with four minutes to go

Replacement hooker Rob Herring scored Ireland’s fourth try with four minutes to go

2023 Six Nations final standings

Team W D L SD BP P
Ireland 5 0 0 79 4 27
France 4 0 1 59 4 20
Scotland 3 0 2 20 3 15
England 2 0 3 -35 2 10
Wales 1 0 4 -63 2 6
Italy 0 0 5 -60 1 1

What they said…

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell told ITV Sport post-match…

“It’s the fourth time we’ve done it, it’s the first time we’ve done it at home – it means so much to everyone here and the millions of Irish around the world to be able to do it on St Patrick’s weekend.

“Winning a Grand Slam is always a bit special. It was squeaky bum time for a while, credit to France for the pressure they put on for the last couple of games. We knew that it was win at all cost.

“The game was stop-start – it was a proper old-fashioned Test match but, again, we were disappointed with some aspects on the game, but we were a bonus-point win again, so I think that’s where we’re at at the moment.

“Hopefully, there’s bigger fish to fry for Johnny (Sexton) with the World Cup etc, but it’s unbelievably fitting for him to have this moment to lift the trophy.

“He actually wanted to go and lift it up with somebody else and I said he mustn’t, he’s got to do this and relish his moment because he deserves it.

“He’s one of the best, if not, the best, that Ireland have produced, and what a way for him to go out of the Six Nations, lifting the trophy on a Grand Slam.”

England skipper Owen Farrell told ITV Sport…

“First of all, congratulations to Ireland. Winning the Grand Slam is special, so it has been a brilliant effort from them over this Six Nations.

“I thought we showed a tremendous amount of fight. I thought we probably gave too many penalties away in the first half, which allowed Ireland in, but we fought all the way to their line and when we did get down there we came away with some points.

“Obviously the game changed with the red card. We still showed a brilliant amount of fight after that, worked hard for each other and stuck in it.

“We looked like we were causing problems at some points, but against a top team like Ireland it showed through in the end.”

What’s next?

Ireland complete their 2023 Six Nations campaign with a record of five wins from five, having beaten France and England in Dublin, and won on the road vs Wales, Italy and Scotland.

Farrell’s side are next in international action in August for their Rugby World Cup warm-up Tests, with two games announced so far vs Italy (August 5) at Murrayfield, and England (August 19) at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland’s Six Nations 2023 fixtures

Saturday, February 4 Wales 10-34 Ireland
Saturday, February 11 Ireland 32-19 France
Saturday, February 25 Italy 20-34 Ireland
Sunday, March 12 Scotland 7-22 Ireland
Saturday, March 18 Ireland 29-16 England

England finish their campaign under Borthwick with three defeats from five and two wins, after home losses to Scotland and France at Twickenham, a loss to Ireland in Dublin, as well as a home win over Italy and away win vs Wales.

Borthwick’s charges have announced four Rugby World Cup warm-up fixtures for August: vs Wales (August 5) in Cardiff, Wales (August 12) at Twickenham, Ireland (August 19) in Dublin, and Fiji (August 26) and Twickenham.

England’s Six Nations 2023 fixtures

Saturday, February 4 England 23-29 Scotland
Sunday, February 12 England 31-14 Italy
Saturday, February 25 Wales 10-20 England
Saturday, March 11 England 10-53 France
Saturday, March 18 Ireland 29-16 England


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