Rory Best becomes the first Ulsterman to guide Ireland to a Grand Slam as Ireland overcame England 24-15 at a bitterly cold Twickenham.
Jacob Stockdale scored Ireland’s final try with Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander the other try scorers.
Nerves would have been expected but Ireland looked composed and without panic from the off – a major feature of this Joe Schmidt side. It took just six minutes for Ireland to open the score. Johnny Sexton launched a Garryowen deep into the English 22m and with Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney bearing down on Anthony Watson, the English fullback made a mess of it, allowing the former Blackrock College player to score the first try. Admittedly, replays at half time did indicate that Kearney knocked the ball on.
In times gone by Ireland would have gone out with a whimper in matches such as these – who can forget the last day of the Championship when Ireland narrowly lost to France – but Joe Schmidt has instilled a confidence and swagger in tough games akin to England in the past seasons. Ireland laid down an early marker with rugged forward play combined with terrific ball retention. Dan Leavy, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson and James Ryan were at the heart of Ireland’s strong ball carrying.
A great start got even better on 23 minutes. A strike move put Bundee Aki through the gap thanks to a inside pass from Tadhg Furlong. Aki found CJ Stander who touched the base of the post. At 14-0, Ireland looked comfortable however, England began to pile on the pressure and Bundee Aki would have counted himself lucky with a suspect hit on Elliot Daly. From that Peter O’Mahony received a yellow for pulling down the maul. England eventually capitalized on their man advantage as Daly dotted down after a Owen Farrell grubber.
Jacob Stockdale entered the history books with his seventh Six Nations try on the stroke of half time. A chipped kick over Mike Brown into the deep in goal area and despite having two England players grappling to get in front of him, the Ulsterman managed to ground the ball and send Ireland in 21-5 at the break.
In the second half, Ireland restricted England’s ball and played in the correct parts of the pitch. With 20 minutes left, Conor Murray knocked over a penalty to put 19 points between the sides. Throughout the second half, Ireland played the game at their own pace.
England did however score through Elliot Daly. The introduction of George Ford gave the home side more of an attacking threat and a loop between him and Owen Farrell created space in the outside channels. Rob Kearney bit in allowing Mike Brown to offload to the Wasps’ winger who scored.
Jonny May scored with the last play of the game to prevent England succumbing to a record defeat. Schmidt will probably have a go at the lads for switching off in the last stages of the game, but that was a truly professional performance by a side that is sending out a statement around the world.
I expected a lot more from England, hence why I tipped them. All the 50/50 decisions went in the favour of the Irish, but England looked weak in attack and their game plan made it all too easy for a well drilled Irish defence. Only when George Ford came on did England troubled the Irish defence but by then it was too late.
There’s still progress to be made but Ireland proved they were the stand out side in the Six Nations. Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale will be hoping to move continue their form into domestic matches as Ulster prepare for a battle for Champions Cup rugby next season.
CJ Stander, Rob Kearney, Iain Henderson and Rory Best all stepped up to the mark today. Kearney has proved that he still has plenty to offer while Henderson and Best turned over ball in crucial areas of the pitch. Ireland have longed for a openside flanker but they have found one in the shape of Dan Leavy.
- Cian Healy
- Rory Best
- Tadhg Furlong
- Iain Henderson
- James Ryan
- Peter O'Mahony
- Dan Leavy
- CJ Stander
- Conor Murray
- Johnny Sexton
- Jacob Stockdale
- Bundee Aki
- Garry Ringrose
- Keith Earls
- Rob Kearney
- Sean Cronin
- Jack McGrath
- Andrew Porter
- Devin Toner
- Jordi Murphy
- Kieran Marmion
- Joey Carbery
- Jordan Larmour