Ireland’s Grand ambition realised against England
History made as Joe Schmidt’s Green Machine secure Grand Slam at Twickenham
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale makes history with Ireland’s third try at Twickenham. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland sealed the deal in, of all places, Twickenham and on, of all days, St Patrick’s Day to warm the cockles of a sizeable Green Army on a bitterly cold day pockmarked by light snow flurries. This group of players thus elevated themselves to join the ranks of the very best to come from Ireland by augmenting a third title in five years with only a third Grand Slam in history.
They haven’t finished yet.
Admittedly, they weren’t quite at their most machine-like efficiency for all 80 minutes here, and slightly limped over the line when being forced onto the back foot for much of the second-half. Their luck was in and the ball bounced for them at times, but they were clinical with their opportunities, led all the way from the fifth minute and were always more than a score clear from the 24th. They were fully deserving winners here, and of the 2018 Six Nations.
Their scrum, anchored by Man of the Match Tadhg Furlong who was also at his rampaging best in the loose with a dozen carries, was rock solid and won a chunk of vital penalties, and their lineout was equally efficient.
England went to the corner repeatedly, but were continually defied by the Irish maul defence. The outstanding Iain Henderson, James Ryan, CJ Stander, who had a faintly ridiculous 23 carries, and Peter O’Mahony excelled in this and much else.
They were given a good workout in defence, where Dan Leavy, Henderson, Ryan and Furlong were immense, and Keith Earls also defended brilliantly at times. Rob Kearney, an ever-present in two Slams and four titles, had another big game, while Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton oozed class in all they did, and again dictated the tempo while also putting in big shifts.
Ireland had to be steady under pressure from the kick-off, Kearney, Murray and the lineout holding firm near their own line, and when Farrell needlessly hit Kearney late, it earned a relieving penalty on the 10-metre line.
Although the ensuing lineout was messy, it enabled Sexton put up a bomb in the swirling cold air which hung forever, allowing the hard-crashing Kearney to contest the ball as it came down on Anthony Watson at the goal-line. The English full-back couldn’t gather, the ball bouncing back off his hands and head, then Kearney’s knee, before Ringrose touched down.
Although the crowd’s reaction was muted, you could tell from the immediate reactions of Bundee Aki and Ringrose that they believed it was a try. After lengthy recourse to the TMO, Ben Skeen, Angus Gardner awarded the try and Sexton judged his conversion across the wind perfectly.
Ireland then began to own the ball and territory, as they do, first around halfway, then inside the English 22 after Farrell’s clearance inadvertently hit the back of Haskell’s red scrum cap. For the first time the Irish supporters broke the silence with their first airing of The Fields; for the second they chanted ‘Ire-land, Ire-land,’ before Aki knocked on Kearney’s pass after 18 phases.
The home crowd were being silenced.
When George Kruis knocked on Richard Wigglesworth’s pass, Henderson pounced quickly on the loose ball, and when Sexton carried, Kyle Sinckler was penalised. Sexton’s straightish penalty hit the post, but as against Wales it turned into another good miss.
Playing with another advantage Sexton wrapped around Tadhg Furlong and as the defence followed the outhalf Furlong deftly popped the ball instead to Aki who sliced through. Supported by Ringrose to his outside and Stander on his inside, he passed inside and Stander had the strength to take tackles by Wigglesworth and Haskell in touching down against the post padding.
Alas, Aki undid his good work when beaten to Farrell’s restart in the air by Daly, and compounded this by conceding a penalty for a no-arms tackle on the same penalty. Four times England went to the corner, leading to a yellow card for O’Mahony for pulling one maul down. The incessant pressure told when Farrell grubbered through for Daly to finish, although Farrell surprisingly missed the conversion as Watson was helped off to be replaced by Mike Brown.
O’Mahony’s return was countered by the departure of Sexton for an HIA, although Joey Carbery slotted in seamlessly.
With the 40 minutes up and after good carries by Stander and Ringrose, Murray spotted Jacob Stockdale unguarded on the blindside, and drew a tackle to release the winger. He chipped Brown, then kneed the ball on when attempting to gather it, and just touched down with his left hand before it reached the end goal area which, ironically, had been extended an extra couple of metres. Carbery even landed a fine conversion for a 21-5 interval lead.
When your luck is in, your luck is in, and for the third game running Ireland had scored a try in first-half overtime.
Keeping England out for the first 10 minutes of the second half was the second part of the deal. There was a missed case of blocking before Ben Te’o ran through Sexton and then Earls recovered from missing an attempted intercept with a try-saving tip tackle on Daly, and followed that up with a strong tackle on Brown, with help from Murray.
Daly then inadvertently lifted the next siege after Jaco Peyper spotted a neck roll by Daly on Kearney.
When Aki injured himself in tackling Jonathan Joseph, Jordan Larmour came in to partner Ringrose, who moved to inside centre. At the same time, Farrell moved to ’12’ and Te’o to ‘13’ as Joseph was hauled off for George Ford.
Larmour came within a metre of the line with his first carry as Sexton went wide with a penalty advantage, and Ringrose almost got over from his own pick up. Jamie George had been penalised for not rolling away after tackling Kearney, and Murray banged over the penalty on the hour.
But England weren’t done, and brought Ireland back to within two scores when Ford fixed the defence and gave Brown a two-on-two which the replacement fullback made into a try when taking Earls’ tackle and drawing in Kearney before offloading to give Daly a simple run-in.
Farrell again missed the conversion, although Carbery also missed a 43 metre penalty, and Ringrose did well to rip the ball from Daly before O’Mahony went off for an HIA to replaced by Jordi Murphy and Earls was helped off to be replaced by Kieran Marmion.
However, it was Sean Cronin who was on Ireland’s right wing with a try-saving tackle on Brown by the corner flag. A procession of penalties culminated in Ford and Te’o putting May over, although Farrell couldn’t convert from the touchline for the consolation of a bonus point.
But even as this was happening, the Irish players and backroom staff were celebrating on the sidelines.
This was their day, their day of days.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Ringrose try, Sexton con 7-0; 24 mins Stander try, Sexton con 0-14; 32 mins Daly try 5-14; 40 (+2 mins) Stockdale try, Carbery con 5-21; (half-time 5-21); 60 mins Murray pen 5-24; 65 mins Daly try, 10-24; 82 mins May try 15-24.
England: Anthony Watson (Bath); Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Elliot Daly (Wasps); Owen Farrell (Saracens), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens); Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs). Replacements: Mike Brown (Harlequins) for Watson (33 mins), Joe Marler (Harlequins) for Vunipola, Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers) for Sinckler (both 53 mins), George Ford (Leicester Tigers) for Joseph (56 mins), Jamie George (Saracens) for Hartley (58 mins), Danny Care (Harlequins) for Wigglesworth (61 mins), Don Armand (Exeter Chiefs) for Simmonds (66 mins), Joe Launchbury (Wasps) for Kruis (71 mins).
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), James Ryan (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster). Replacements: Joey Carbery (Leinster) for Sexton (34-40 and 66 mins), Jack McGrath (Leinster) for Healy (51 mins), Jordan Larmour (Leinster) for Aki (56 mins), Sean Cronin (Leinster) for Best, Andrew Porter (Leinster) for Furlong (both 65 mins), Devin Toner (Leinster) for Ryan (66 mins), Jordi Murphy (Leinster) for O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion (Connacht) for Earls (both 74 mins).
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)