The chariot heads quietly to the repair shop as Ireland cheers second place
Supporters in green did everything they could to provide the team with a 16th man
You knew it was a special night in Dublin 4 when the ‘Fields of Athenry’ were given a resounding chorus. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/Getty
England finished the game champions, as they had started it. But on a raucous night in Dublin 4, Ireland did most of the celebrating as Joe Schmidt’s men brought the visitors’ epic winning run to a crashing halt.
At the end of a week that has seen many of the world’s monuments bathed in green, it turned out that not even the stage on which the English were presented with the Six Nations trophy was safe.
Ireland’s 13-9 win had deprived the visitors not just of successive Grand Slams. The global greening also extended to what would have been their world record winning streak for first-rank nations.
That sequence has now stopped at a joint-best 18, as did New Zealand’s last November, when Ireland were again the history wreckers.
As for this Irish victory, never has an attempt to finish second in a competition - the best the home team could hope for before kickoff after defeats to Scotland and Wales - been so loudly cheered as it was here.
The 16th man
The evening began with a minute’s silence, for the victims of the Mayo helicopter tragedy. After that, the volume was turned up to 11 and stayed there, as supporters in green did everything they could to provide the team with a 16th man.
They roared approval of Irish tackles and turnovers. They howled with rage at the merest suggestion of English high tackles, especially if Johnny Sexton’s head was on the receiving end.
Even the last-minute announcement that Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip would miss the game with injury, to be replaced by Peter O’Mahony, had been greeted as if it was a tactical masterstroke. And it might well have been, because in a team of heroes, O’Mahony was to prove man of the match.
Perhaps uniquely in world sport, rugby supporters of Ireland and England compete for the low moral ground. When in optimistic mood, the English boast about how low their chariot swings. Likewise, when happy, Irish supporters celebrate the depressed altitude of the Fields of Athenry.
You knew it was a special night in Dublin 4 when the Fields were given a resounding chorus - the first of several on the night - as early as the 25th minute. Swing Low Sweet Chariot, by contrast, did not make an appearance until well into the second half, whereupon it was instantly drowned out by a reprise of Athenry.
And by the time Ireland’s spiritual anthem received its final outing, late on and to the accompaniments of soft rain rolling in over the stadium, the chariot was heading quietly for the repair shop.
After the cacophony that greeted the final whistle died down, the defeated English had to somehow compose themselves for the cup presentation. They were still the best team in the tournament, officially. But if only because of the rain, the triumphant fireworks display looked a bit damper than usual.