Rugby: Ireland clinch Six Nations Grand Slam with victory over England

Ireland have completed their fourth Six Nations Grand Slam with a 29-16 victory over England at a pulsating Aviva Stadium on Sunday (NZ time) emphatically underlining their status as the world's top-ranked team heading into September's World Cup.

The script could not have been better prepared - a chance to seal a first Grand Slam in Dublin on St Patrick's Day weekend - and Ireland delivered, although it was nervier than they would have liked against an England side reduced to 14 men for the entire second half.

England were within one point of an upset with 20 minutes to go but late tries from Robbie Henshaw, Rob Herring and a second for man of the match Dan Sheehan made sure of Ireland's 15th championship and fifth since 2009.

"You couldn't make it up, it's like living in a dream. We didn't play our best but bloody hell, what a team. What a group of coaches," said Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, playing in his final Six Nations game, said in a pitchside interview.

"To come here and get a win on St Patrick's weekend, it's unbelievable. What a day."

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton celebrates a try.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton celebrates a try. Photo credit: Getty Images

Andy Farrell's side were well worthy of the clean sweep, having won every game by 13 points or more, averaged four ties per outing and ending 2022 winners France's 14-game unbeaten run along the way in the game of the championship.

The coach praised his entire squad for how they dealt with adversity from losing some key men to injury - five in last week's win against Scotland alone - to grinding out a win when they needed to as they very much did on Saturday.

England on the other hand were seeking to regain some pride after the record 53-10 home defeat by France last week and they were more cohesive in winning a couple of early turnovers and turned their pressure into a deserved 6-0 lead.

While looking a clear threat in attack, Ireland were making uncharacteristic errors. Sexton, whose 19th-minute penalty made him the Six Nations' highest all-time scorer, later joked that they did the exact opposite of what the coaches told them to.

With England's penalty count ticking up as they sought to stem the tide, the breakthrough came on 32 minutes. Josh van der Flier peeled off the back of a ruck, found Sheehan with a reverse pass and there was no stopping the explosive hooker once he had the line in his sights.

The bigger turning point arrived eight minutes later though as Freddie Steward struck his opposite number, Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan, with an elbow to the head while in an upright position and was sent off.

If it looked like Ireland would cruise towards a Grand Slam in Dublin, following success in Twickenham (2018), Cardiff (2009) and Belfast (1948), England had other ideas and another Owen Farrell penalty after the break made it 10-9.

Ireland players celebrate a try.
Ireland players celebrate a try. Photo credit: Getty Images

It took the try for Henshaw, starting his first game of the championship, for the relief to spread through the stadium with Sheehan's second all but clinching a first Six Nations title in front of their own fans since 1985.

Jamie George grabbed a consolation try for England before replacement Irish hooker Herring extended the lead again as Ireland made it 22 wins from their last 24 games and the party began.

"I thought we showed a tremendous amount of fight. Obviously the game changed with the card but we still showed a huge amount of fight and stuck in it," England captain Farrell said.

Earlier, France ended their Six Nations campaign with an emphatic 41-28 bonus-point victory over Wales at the Stade de France.

Damian Penaud crossed twice, Jonathan Danty, Uini Atonio and Gael Fickou scored a try each and Thomas Ramos kicked the other points.

Wales, who looked to be heading for a much bigger loss early in the second half, fought back and finished with four tries by George North, Bradley Roberts, Tomos Williams and Rio Dyer, the other points coming from the boots of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny.

Meanwhile, First-five Blair Kinghorn made the most of a rare start with a hat-trick of tries, as Scotland claimed a bonus-point 26-14 victory over Italy in their final Six Nations game to cement a second top-three finish in the last 10 years.

Kinghorn replaced injured Finn Russell in the starting XV and took his chance with a match-winning performance, though in general there was a lack of creativity and invention from the Scots as winger Duhan van der Merwe also crossed for a score.

Italy defended heroically at times and on a rare foray into the Scotland 22 scored their only try through fullback Tommaso Allan. Trailing by five points, they camped on the Scotland try line for the final few minutes but Scotland broke from their own 22 to complete the win.

Italy finished bottom of the table having lost all five fixtures, though their performances have been much improved this season.