RugbyThe Offload

Grand Slam Offload: Where have we seen Dan Sheehan’s try before?

Sexton’s bid to avoid spotlight fails - Days of being bullied are over as green giants emerge

Dan Sheehan scores Ireland's first try against England as his team-mates celebrate in the background. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

There is no such thing as innovation in rugby, only borrowing with tinkering. Case in point Dan Sheehan’s first try against England. The set-play move, an inside ball into a gap off a lineout maul, was brilliant in how it was drawn up and executed. To keen eyes, the score looked familiar.

Back in 2019, the last Six Nations of the Joe Schmidt era, Ireland scored a very similar try in a comfortable 26-14 win over France. The roles were different on that day in the Aviva. Off a lineout maul near the 22, CJ Stander peeled away, drew multiple defenders and popped the ball back inside for Keith Earls to hit the gap. Of course, number eight and wing combining reads very differently to openside and hooker, as was the case with Josh van der Flier’s try assist for Sheehan on Saturday.

The fact it was Sheehan rather than Earls lurking in behind the maul ensured fewer defensive eyes focused on him. A hooker is expected to join the back of the maul, not hide as an inside option.

On Saturday, Ireland sent Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe running down the blindside. Alongside Sheehan sitting behind the maul, they drew three defenders that could have closed the gap the hooker eventually burst through. In 2019, no Ireland decoys ran down the blindside.


Combined with Caelan Doris’s presence in midfield, who carried hard over the gainline on the exact same set-up minutes earlier, defenders either side of Van der Flier were distracted. More than enough was done to open up just enough of a gap for Sheehan, arguably the fastest frontrow forward in the world, to speed through.

As happens across the sport, Ireland took a move that worked before and tinkered, adding different layers to remain creative in pursuit of opportunities. In a time where praise of Andy Farrell’s relaxed demeanour often reads as criticism of Schmidt’s relentless streak, the score served as a reminder, if one was needed, of the good that comes with the bad of all coaching regimes.

Sexton’s bid to avoid spotlight fails

Leinster have coined the tradition in recent years of having departing players raise silverware should it be won, a gesture to thank players for their service when sending them off. On Saturday with Ireland, Johnny Sexton tried to get out of that honour, offering to raise the Six Nations trophy in tandem with someone else.

There are players who could well join him in riding into the sunset in the not too distant future, such as Cian Healy whose contract expires this year, but Sexton is the only player for whom Saturday was definitively a final Six Nations contest. As such, the captain and the only confirmed departee wasn’t getting away without the spotlight.

Not that he didn’t try. Speaking to ITV after the game, Andy Farrell explained that he had to tell his skipper to stand alone: “He wanted to lift it with someone else and I said he mustn’t. He deserves it. What a way for him to go out of the Six Nations. It’s unbelievable for him to have this moment and lift the trophy.”

Thankfully for Sexton, given the nature of a Grand Slam, two trophies are handed out with the Triple Crown also on offer. James Ryan, as vice-captain, was given the honours of lifting that in tandem with Garry Ringrose. The Leinster centre, who suffered a brain injury in a gruesome collision last weekend against Scotland, remained with the camp to continue his leadership role by contributing however he could in the build-up to the England contest.

Days of being bullied are over as green giants emerge

They seem a distant memory now, but the days of Irish defeats to England highlighted by physical mismatches are not that long ago. In 2019 and 2020, Ireland lost four times to the old enemy in games where they were physically bullied – none more so than a 57-15 drubbing in a World Cup warm-up at Twickenham.

Since defeat in November 2020, Ireland have turned the tide to beat England on three consecutive occasions. Gone are the days of being overpowered by white jerseys; Ireland had 13 dominant tackles on Saturday to England’s seven. What has changed?

Part of it is personnel. Since that above Autumn Nations Cup defeat, Ireland have welcomed Dan Sheehan and Caelan Doris to their starting pack, while Andrew Porter made his infamous shift from tighthead to loosehead to earn more game time.

Part of it is also individual improvement. Josh van der Flier’s development into a more powerful player has been well documented, while James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne now more often outperform their size. Iain Henderson has always been a brute of a lock but he has been joined in camp by Kieran Treadwell and Joe McCarthy, two of the larger secondrows on the island.

In the Grand Slam-winning under-20s outfit, the rise of powerful forwards doesn’t stop. Paddy McCarthy – Joe’s younger brother – Diarmiud Mangan, Conor O’Tighearnaigh, Ruadhan Quinn and Brian Gleeson are all promising, dynamic athletes.

Be it genetic luck, or be it a conscious decision in player development, Ireland have a stream of powerful forwards that can compete with the bigger sides in world rugby. South Africa, France and England will always have cycles of dominance in that part of the game, but Ireland look to have closed the gap.


“I was taking some tablets before the game so I didn’t s**t myself.” – Speaking to RTÉ Radio, Mack Hansen details his pre-match nerves.

Number: 10

The amount of tries Ireland conceded across the 2022 and 2023 championships. All five other countries allowed more tries in 2023 alone.