Ireland have clinched a historic fourth Grand Slam and a fifth Six Nations title after beating England 29-16 in Dublin.
Captain Johnny Sexton became the leading points scorer in men’s Six Nations history as he led Ireland to victory in his final ever appearance in the competition. The 37-year-old is set to retire from the sport following the Rugby World Cup later this year and enjoyed a fairytale ending to his Six Nations career.
Ireland began the game knowing they needed a win after France secured a bonus-point victory over Wales that saw them go top of the table by a solitary point. However, Andy Farrell’s men were not to be denied, with Dan Sheehan, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Herring scoring Ireland’s three tries.
England, meanwhile, put in a much-improved performance after their humiliating 53-10 loss to France but were always fighting a losing battle after Freddie Steward was sent off late in the first-half. Steward was given a red card by referee Jaco Peyper after his elbow made contact with the head of Hugo Keenan as they both attempted to gather a loose ball.
The decision was a controversial one and completely changed the game, with Ireland holding a narrow 10-6 lead when he was dismissed. England World Cup winner Matt Dawson branded it an “utter farce” while on commentary for BBC Radio 5 Live:
“The officials are showing a lack of understanding of the game,” he fumed. “I can’t disagree with how the contact is a red but it is the context of how it went to that contact.
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“He is stepping and slowing and turning to get out of the contact area, and has been punished by being sent off. It is a mockery. He was doing his utmost best to avoid any kind of contact. It is an utter farce.”
Former Ireland fly-half Tony Ward also claimed Steward should not have been sent off, stating: “I’m very surprised at the colour of the card but I do think it merited a card as it was a tackle you cannot defend.”
Despite losing Steward on the stroke of half-time, England fought hard in the second half before Ireland’s numbers advantage tolled and Henshaw and Sheehan scored two tries in quick succession. Jamie George did score a consolation try in the 71st minute, but it was too late for England as Herring responded with a try of his own to seal a memorable victory for Ireland in front of their home crowd.