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Rugby the winner as Ireland win fourth Grand Slam

By Aidan Corr in Aviva Stadium

Guinness Six Nations:
Ireland 29, England 16
WHAT an atmosphere in the Aviva this evening as the 2023 Six Nations staged its final fixture. While Ireland deservedly took the spoils and were crowned Grand Slam winners for the fourth time, rugby was clearly the winner. England put the embarrassment of that heavy defeat in France firmly to bed. They calmly overcame the expected early onslaught from the Irish and they would have been very pleased with their first half performance. Had the TMO not ruled out that red card to full back Freddie Steward, nobody knows how this game might have ended. The fact that the visitors finished with only 13 on the field was immaterial as by then the championship was firmly going to the Irish.
After Ireland had conceded two turnovers it was the visitors who took first blood, Owen Farrell popping over a close-in penalty. The home side responded almost immediately, Henry Arundell choosing to run the ball rather than kick for distance but the home pack lost possession a metre from the try line. England increased their lead to 6-0 on 14 minutes, Farrell splitting the posts from a tight angle.
Ireland continued to look rusty but they got a lifeline after 18 minutes, Jonathan Sexton getting his side on the scoreboard with a penalty from inside the ten metre line to bring the score to 3-6. Going into the second quarter Ireland once again self-destructed with England booting the ball deep and Keenan conceding a lineout on his own 22. Ireland survived the attack, forcing a penalty on halfway but they again coughed up possession and left England off the hook. With 32 minutes played England conceded another penalty, Sexton popped it into touch inside the 22, the lineout went to plan and there was no stopping Dan Sheehan as he brushed two tackles out of his way and touched down, Sexton adding the conversion to put Ireland into the lead for the first time, 10-6. Ireland finished the half on the offensive, England lost their full-back Freddie Stewart to a red card and Hugo Keenan had to retire, replaced by Jimmy O’Brien as the sides went in after an evenly contested opening 40 minutes.
Both coaches should have been content with their first half performances. The England pack were giving a good account of themselves and holding their own against the fancied Irish eight while behind the scrum Owen Farrell and Jack van Poortvliet were steady at half-back. The Irish play in that first half was below expectations but with the visitors reduced to 14 players, the second half promised better return from the boys in green.
Gibson Park was the first to brighten up the second half with a thrilling break down the left flank. With 47 minutes played Ireland endured a series of unforced errors that must have had head coach Farrell wondering what was happening out there. Two knock-ons followed by a penalty gifted England a chance to leave a single point between the sides and Owen Farrell, who was proving his worth on his return, made it 10-9 on 51 minutes.
It was becoming a game where the ball spent more time in the sky than on the ground and coming into the final quarter Ireland continued to make it difficult for themselves with errors that we have not seen in any of their games in this Six Nations. The packed stadium needed something to shout about and they got it on 61 minutes, Robbie Henshaw charging over and Sexton’s conversion putting his side two scores in front at 17-9. A second Dan Sheehan try, converted by Sexton, increased the Ireland lead, the visitors replied with a try by Jamie George, converted by Owen Farrell, which brought the England tally to 16 but Ireland finished with a flurry with Rob Herring dotting down for a convincing victory.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Ryan Baird, James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris. Guinness Six Nations:
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Ryan Baird, James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne, Jimmy O’Brien
England: Freddie Steward; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Arundell; Owen Farrell (capt), Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler; Maro Itoje, David Ribbans; Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis, Alex Dombrandt.
Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
Assistant Referee 1: Ben O’Keeffe (NZR)
Assistant Referee 2: Pierre Brousset (FFR)
TMO: Marius Jonker (SARU)

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