For the first time ever, the Irish win the Slam at home
For the first time in history, fans in Dublin got to see Ireland win a Grand Slam at home.
On St Patrick’s Day weekend, Ireland completed the set of 2023 Championship wins, finishing up with a 29-16 victory over England. Not only that, but the Aviva Stadium crowd witnessed Johnny Sexton break the all-time Six Nations points record – in his last ever Six Nations match.
The fly-half will hang up his boots after the Rugby World Cup in France, later this year. The Irish have never gotten beyond the quarter-finals of the tournament before in their history, but having gotten to No 1 in the world rankings and winning the Slam in Dublin, the Irish have to be right amongst the favourites.
They got the job done in Dublin, but they were jittery for stretches of the match. Uncharacteristic errors crept in. Their favourite move where a pass back inside to a blind runner from a ruck, consistently hit the skids. Tadhg Furlong was dropping balls. Hugo Keenan was slicing kicks into touch.
England turned up to spoil the party too, looking much more competitive than they have for much of the championship. Indeed, at times it was hard to believe this was the same side that was blown away amidst a France record win at Twickenham last week.
Could they have achieved the unexpected had referee Jaco Peyper not contentiously shown Freddie Steward red? It’s of course academic, but one can wonder…
Second half fireworks ensure Ireland win Grand Slam
In the second half, Ireland cut loose against 14 men.
At 10-9, Owen Farrell’s force of will showed, as the visitors refused to wilt in the early exchanges of the second 40. But when Robbie Henshaw crashed over for a second try, you could sense the Dublin crowd relax. Then when short-side exchanges allowed hooker Dan Sheehan to slip in at the right corner (for his second try of the game) the Slam was in sight. Even Sexton was forced to skip and fist bump after clipping over his conversion – an uncharacteristic display of giddiness, considering there were still ten minutes to play.
England got another score from Jamie George at the back of a churning maul with eight or so minutes left, adding to three penalties from Farrell.
But as Rob Herring ripped off the back of a maul to dart over for the bonus-point try, the crowd realised that was it: Slam confirmed.
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