Hooker Dan Sheehan scored two tries to lead Ireland to a 29-16 win over England for their fourth Five/Six Nations Grand Slam on Saturday.
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton became the all-time Six Nations points-scorer from a penalty, also converting Sheehan’s double and another attempt from Robbie Henshaw.
It was a dream final Six Nations Test for the talismanic Irish fly-half.
“Damn it, what a team!” said sexton. “We did exactly the opposite of what the coaches told us to do!
“But in the end we made it.
“It’s like a dream I don’t want to wake up from. This is what you dream of as a child. I pinch myself.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell – who was Joe Schmidt’s assistant when they won the Grand Slam in 2018 – said it was “squeaky bum time” at one point but he was pleased it ended in their favour.
“It means so much to everyone here – to do a St. Patrick’s weekend and win a Grand Slam will always be special,” said the 47-year-old Englishman, father of England fly-half-ande skipper Owen.
Ireland went into the game knowing that a win or a draw would be enough to secure the title but were forced to work by England, who sent full-back Freddie Steward off just in time at half-time.
England started brilliantly, putting the first points on the board when Owen Farrell overcame a penalty in the eighth minute and a second three shortly after.
The Irish upped the pressure but were let down by unforced errors when James Lowe squandered possession with a loose blind pass.
Sexton set his own personal milestone for Six Nations points, putting the hosts on the table with a long-range penalty in the 19th minute.
His policy of always being the team’s landmark, not himself, counted less than Sheehan’s 33rd-minute try.
Wonderfully fed by Josh van der Flier, the Irish hooker stormed through a gaping gap in England’s defense to touchdown.
Sexton converted to 10-6 to put Ireland ahead for the first time and shook a previously muted crowd.
The Irish not only ended the half with points, but also as a man for good.
England full-back Stewart was sent off after much debate when he spun sideways and collided with Hugo Keenan’s head, a collision that saw the Ireland player replaced by Jimmy O’Brien.
‘Fields of Athenry’
England brought the game to the home side, helped by Irish handling errors, and Owen Farrell reduced the lead to just a point with his third penalty in the 51st minute.
Ireland were shaken, epitomized by a nervous Sexton free-kick – the captain held up his hand to apologize to his team-mates, then waved his hands in the air to straighten them up.
Tempers were high when Ireland props man Andrew Porter tried Owen Farrell, but Ryan Baird then calmed them down with a brilliant turnover.
Minutes later, the Irish eased the pressure significantly when Henshaw, who missed the 2018 Grand Slam Clinch match through injury, keeled over.
Sexton, whose great crossfield kick eventually led to the try, converted for 17-9 with just over 15 minutes to go.
Ireland finally put it to bed as a brilliant offload from Jack Conan to Sheehan saw the hooker corner and brilliantly convert Sexton from the sidelines.
The English didn’t bow their heads, however, as Jamie George walked over to a try that Farrell converted.
Seconds later, Sexton limped off one last time in a Six Nations game – shaking off a medical worker who tried to help him – and received a standing ovation.
England lost another man as the clock ran out when Jack Willis was trapped in a dangerous tackle.
Fittingly, when Sheehan was named man of the match, his replacement as a hooker, Rob Herring, stepped in – Ross Byrne’s conversion went far.
That didn’t matter, however, as the seconds ticked by and the crowd erupted in a performance of “Fields of Athenry” and it was the perfect Six Nations farewell for Sexton in his hometown.
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