Ireland beat England to win their fourth Six Nations Grand Slam
Hooker Dan Sheehan scored two tries to help steer Ireland to a 29-16 victory over England on Saturday for their fourth Five/Six Nations Grand Slam.
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton became the Six Nations all-time record points scorer after landing a penalty, also going on to convert Sheehan’s double and another try by Robbie Henshaw.
It was a dream final Six Nations Test for the talismanic Irish fly-half.
“Bloody hell, what a team!” said Sexton. “We did exactly the opposite of what the coaches told us!
“But we did it in the end.
“It’s like a dream I don’t want to wake up from. This is what you dream of as a kid. I’m pinching myself.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell — who was Joe Schmidt’s assistant when they won the Grand Slam in 2018 — said it had been at one point “squeaky bum time” but he was delighted it had ended in their favour.
“It means so much to everyone here — to be able to do a St Patrick’s weekend and win a Grand Slam is always going to be special,” said the 47-year-old Englishman, father of England fly-half ande skipper Owen.
Ireland went into the game knowing a victory or draw would be enough to seal the title, but were made to work by England, who had full-back Freddie Steward sent off on the stroke of half-time.
England started brightly and put the first points on the board with Owen Farrell slotting over a penalty in the eighth minute, and a second three-pointer shortly after.
The Irish were turning the pressure on but were let down by unforced errors with James Lowe throwing away possession with a loose blind pass.
Sexton set his own personal landmark for Six Nations points scoring and got the hosts on the board with a penalty from distance in the 19th minute.
His watchword being always for the team not himself the personal landmark mattered less than Sheehan’s try in the 33rd minute.
The Irish hooker, beautifully fed by Josh van der Flier, stormed through a gaping space in the English defence to touch down.
Sexton converted for 10-6 to put Ireland’s noses in front for the first time and rouse a previously subdued crowd.
The Irish ended the half not only up on points but also a man to the good.
England fullback Steward was sent off after prolonged debate when he turned sideways and connected with Hugo Keenan’s head, a collision that saw the Irish player replaced by Jimmy O’Brien.
‘Fields of Athenry’
The English, aided by Irish handling errors, took the game to the home side, Owen Farrell reducing the lead to just a point in the 51st minute with his third penalty.
Ireland were rattled, epitomised by a nervy clearance kick by Sexton — the captain holding his hand up to apologise to his team-mates and then waving his hands in the air to gee them up.
Tempers were fraying with Ireland prop Andrew Porter having a go at Owen Farrell but following that Ryan Baird calmed them down with a brilliant turnover.
A few minutes later the Irish eased the pressure considerably as Henshaw, who missed the Grand Slam-clinching match in 2018 due to injury, crashed over.
Sexton, whose sublime crossfield kick led eventually to the try, converted for 17-9 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Ireland finally put it to bed as a brilliant offload by Jack Conan to Sheehan saw the hooker go over in the corner, Sexton converting brilliantly from the touchline.
The English, however, did not bow their heads with Jamie George going over for a try Farrell converted.
Seconds later Sexton limped off the pitch for a final time in a Six Nations match — shrugging off a medical staff member who wanted to help him — and receiving a standing ovation.
England lost another man with the clock ticking down as Jack Willis was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle.
Appropriately just as Sheehan was being named man of the match his replacement as hooker, Rob Herring, went over — Ross Byrne’s conversion went wide.
However, that mattered not a jot as the seconds ticked down, the crowd burst into a rendition of ‘Fields of Athenry’, and the perfect Six Nations farewell for Sexton in his hometown.