Joe Schmidt’s side gave Irish rugby its third Grand Slam following a comprehensive victory over England at Twickenham, with a final score line of 24-15 flattering the home side.
This was Ireland’s best performance of this year’s NatWest 6 Nations Championship; they produced the goods when they really needed to, when the greatest prize in Northern Hemisphere rugby was at stake.
Before a sell-out crowd on a freezing Saturday afternoon, the Irish opened the scoring with a try from Garry Ringrose. He touched down after a Johnny Sexton kick, followed by pressure from Rob Kearney, had put England’s Anthony Watson under pressure. Both Watson and Kearney went for the ball in the air, but the Englishman fumbled, the ball ran loose and the alert Ringrose touched it down with one hand to set his side on their way to victory.
With Sexton converting, the visitors held a 7-0 lead with only seven minutes on the clock. Unfortunately the out-half missed an opportunity shortly afterward to extend the Irish lead when missing a penalty awarded against England for not rolling away at a ruck.
Ireland’s second five-pointer came from a Bundee Aki burst which eventually allowed the industrious CJ Stander stretch to touch the bottom of the posts for his score. A simple conversion from Sexton had Schmidt’s men firmly in the driving seat by this stage.
England registered their first score of the game during the absence of Peter O’Mahony who had been yellow-carded after Ireland conceded four consecutive penalties. Owen Farrell’s grubber kick allowed the alert Elliot Daly touch down, but Farrell failed to gain the maximum score as he missed a difficult conversion attempt.
This Ireland side has shown an ability to gain crucial scores prior to the half-time whistle during this season’s NatWest 6 Nations – Saturday would be no different. Winger Jacob Stockdale backed himself when chipping over the England cover, he considered trying to catch the ball as it bounced, but wisely allowed it hit off his legs. As the English attempts to prevent a score failed, the Ulsterman dived to achieve downward pressure on the ball before it crossed the dead ball line.
As a result of his score, the 21 year-old set a record, becoming the first player to score seven tries in a Six Nations Championship campaign. Joey Carbery converted, and as the half-time whistle blew, captain Rory Best led his brave troops from the field with a 21-5 lead.
Conor Murray scored a penalty on 60 minutes to extend the Irish advantage to 19 points, his side’s only score of the second 40-minute period. England’s Elliot Daly brought up his brace of tries when scoring his second five-pointer but kicker Farrell again failed to convert.
Ireland could have extended their lead only for Joey Carbery’s kick from distance to go left of the posts and wide.
With time running out a desperate England needed two converted tries. It took them until the clock was in red before Jonny May scored their consolation try (Farrell again missed the conversion) to add some respectability to the scoreboard from their viewpoint.
Ireland has now achieved a third Grand Slam to add to the success of the teams of 1948 and 2009. This one, being the most recent may be the most special. It was achieved in the ‘Old Enemy’s’ backyard, done so comprehensively, and it was on St. Patrick’s Day. Could you possibly ask for much more than that?